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Online retailer Inc   Thursday posted a higher quarterly profit, fueled by strong international sales and its free shipping offer.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Third-quarter profits more than tripled at Inc., aided by robust sales in Europe and Asia, but the results still fell short of Wall Street’s estimates. Its shares plunged nearly 9 percent in late trading.

The Seattle-based online retailer said Thursday that it had net income of $54 million, or 13 cents per share, for the quarter ended Sept. 30. For the same period a year ago, the company had profits of $16 million, or 4 cents per share.

The results were a nickel per share below the 18 cents mean forecast of analysts polled by Thomson First Call, on revenue of $1.47 billion.

Net sales for the quarter were $1.46 billion, up 29 percent from $1.13 billion for third quarter 2003. Excluding a $57 million benefit from changes in foreign exchange rates, net sales grew 24 percent over 2003.

Amazon shares fell $3.47, or 8.8 percent, in after-hours trading, after closing $1.12 higher at $39.47 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Amazon said that for its North American markets, sales were $816 million, up 15 percent from a year earlier. In its international segment, which includes the company’s United Kingdom, German, French, Japanese and Chinese Web sites, sales were $646 million, up 52 percent.

Pro-forma earnings, which exclude stock-based compensation, operating expenses and other items, were $73 million, or 17 cents a share for the quarter, compared with $48 million, or 11 cents per share, for the same period a year ago.

“This was another solid quarter for,” chief financial officer Tom Szkutak said.

The company said it expects fourth-quarter net sales between $2.3 billion and $2.55 billion, up 18 percent to 31 percent over fourth-quarter 2003.

For the first nine months of 2004, Amazon earned $241.8 million, compared with a loss of $37.9 million for the first nine months of 2003. Nine-month net sales rose to $4.38 billion from $3.32 billion a year earlier.