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Online retailer extraordinaire Amazon (AMZN) reported earnings for its 3rd quarter 2013 after the bell Thursday. It also reported sales, which is the real story for the growth-driven behemoth. Amazon posted revenues of $17.09 billion for the quarter, up 24% year over year and considerably higher than the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $16.77 billion. Oh yeah, and it also posted a loss of $0.09 in earnings per share.

Typically, analysts were all over the map trying to guess what Amazon's earnings would be, and it's a pretty thankless task: the most recent range for the quarter went from positive 3 cents per share to negative 36 cents. You could drive a truck through a range like that. As it happens, the -$0.09 was exactly what the Zacks Consensus had estimated.

Don't fault the analysts for being clueless about Amazon's earnings, though -- with 8 million square feet of new fulfillment centers (essentially localized warehouses put in more regions), the launching of the Kindle Fire HDX tablet, new tweaks to the Kindle Paperwhite and Mojito operating system, no fewer than 9 new original-content show pilots and even the introduction of a Kindle store in Mexico, this is one of the most difficult companies in the world to predict on the bottom-line.

Guidance for its Q4's all-important holiday season is for revenues between $23.5 - $26.5 billion, the high end being beyond our current consensus of $26.05 billion. Not too shabby for a company started in 1994 to sell books over the Internet.

The difficulties, if there are any for Amazon, may be in its global growth initiatives. Even though its International business represents its fastest-growing segment, the biggest country in which Amazon wants to make inroads, China, may also pose the biggest online competition the company has yet seen: Alibaba.com. This future IPO firm looks to be at least a bit more formidable than current Amazon competitors like eBay (EBAY - Analyst Report) or Macy's (M - Analyst Report) in the next few years.

It looks like the after-hours traders are quite pleased with Amazon's sales numbers in the quarter. After AMZN rose 1.54% in regular Thursday trading, post-announcement it's up nearly 8%. I'm not sure I ever remember a 9-cent miss on earnings result in an after-market buying frenzy. Ahh -- such is the magic of Amazon!

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