Amazon Earnings: Return to Profitability But Slow Growth Signaled Ahead

In the third quarter, Amazon benefited from its annual two-day Prime Day sale in July. In the previous year, Prime Day had been held earlier than July. The company called this year’s event its “biggest ever,” and it generated about $6.8 billion in revenue — about $5 billion more than a typical two days — according to estimates from the investment bank Cowen.

Growth in Amazon’s cloud computing division was the slowest on record, increasing 27 percent to $20.5 billion. Amazon Web Services accounted for 16 percent of the company’s total sales but was the only division that produced an operating profit. Mr. Olsavsky said growth slowed in the late summer, as Amazon saw a “lot of customers cutting their bills, which we are glad to help with.”

Its international operations, dragged down by the strong dollar, generated $2.5 billion in operating losses.

The company employed 1.5 million people by the end of the third quarter, almost 100,000 fewer than at the start of the year.

Mr. Olsavsky said Amazon generated more than $1 billion in productivity savings, about half a billion less than executives had hoped. The cost to ship products grew slower than the number of units it sold. But the depressed sales growth makes it harder to operate at optimal efficiency, Mr. Olsavsky said, because the company can best utilize its fulfillment and delivery infrastructure when it has more orders.

Amazon’s lucrative advertising business, which Morgan Stanley estimates is worth about $185 billion, grew 25 percent to $9.5 billion, though there was a slowdown over the quarter as advertisers pulled back. The company’s subscription business, primarily Prime membership, grew 9 percent to $8.9 billion.

Mr. Olsavsky said overall operating profit was reduced by high costs to market two major video offerings for Prime members — Thursday night football games with the National Football League, and its new “Lord of the Rings” series.

In addition to the volatile economic environment, the value of Amazon’s investment in Rivian Automotive, an electric truck maker that has struggled to meet production goals, has added fluctuations to Amazon’s profits this year. That valuation rose $1.1 billion, contributing to Amazon’s profits in the latest quarter.