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Amazon’s cloud unit faces cost-sensitive customers as economic fears mount

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Amazon Web Services has been the biggest growth engine for its parent company over much of the past decade, taking business from some of the largest tech vendors in the world.

But as corporations face the most daunting economic environment since the 2008 financial crisis, those massive checks they’re writing to AWS for their tech infrastructure are getting greater scrutiny.

Peter Kern, CEO of online travel company Expedia Group, sees the cloud as an area where his company can reduce its fixed costs. In recent years, Expedia has moved considerable parts of its operations to AWS from on-premises data centers.

“We haven’t fully optimized the cloud,” Kern said during the company’s earnings call last month. “We’ve moved a lot of technology into the cloud, but we have a lot of work to do.”

U.S. stocks are poised to close out their worst year since 2008. Central bankers have continued to lift interest rates to address rising prices, prompting skittishness about economic deterioration by consumers and businesses. Executives are in cash-preservation mode to appease Wall Street and make sure they’re in position to weather a potential recession.

The National Football League, which uses AWS to produce statistics and schedules, is making conservative plans around costs, said Jennifer Langton, the NFL’s senior vice president of health and innovation.

“We are not recession proof,” Langton told CNBC during an interview at AWS’ annual Reinvent customer conference in Las Vegas this week. The league is negotiating with AWS on the terms of a renewed multi-year agreement, and there are some areas her organization wants to prioritize, she said.

Amazon knows customers are facing challenges. In some cases, Amazon cloud employees reach out to clients to see how it can help optimize spending, said David Brown, AWS’ vice president responsible for the core EC2 computing service. At other times, customers contact AWS, he said.

AWS is coming off its slowest period of expansion since at least 2014, the year Amazon started reporting on the group’s finances. It also missed analysts’ estimates. Still, the division recorded growth of 27.5%, outpacing Amazon’s overall growth of 15%. And it generated $5.4 billion in operating income, accounting for more than 100% of profit for its parent company.

With such a hefty cash balance, AWS can afford to accommodate customers in the short term if it means more business in the future. The company did the same thing during the pandemic in 2020, when Amazon sent some users an email with an offer of financial support.

AWS isn’t the sole big cloud provider that’s dealing with customers’ budget constraints. In the third quarter, Microsoft’s Azure consumption growth moderated as the company helped clients optimize existing workloads, finance chief Amy Hood said in October. Amazon leads the market in cloud computing, with an estimated 39% share.

“If you’re looking to tighten your belt, the cloud is the place to do it,” AWS CEO Andy Selipsky said during his keynote presentation in front of over 50,000 people on Tuesday. Selipsky said that moving IT jobs to the cloud could help budget-strapped organizations save money, citing customers Agco and Carrier Global.

Not everyone agrees. Last year, investors Sarah Wang and Martìn Casado of venture firm Andreessen Horowitz published an analysis, showing that a company could trim its computing costs by half or more by bringing workloads from the cloud back to on-premises data centers.

Amazon is trying to give customers options to reduce costs. It offers Graviton computing instances based on energy-efficient Arm-based chips, a less expensive alternative to instances using standard AMD and Intel processors.

“Customers of every size have adopted Graviton, and they’re achieving up to 40% better price performance simply by shifting their workloads to Graviton instances,” Selipsky said. He said AT&T‘s DirecTV unit was able to eliminate 20% of computing costs by adopting current-generation Graviton chips.

Selipsky told CNBC’s Jon Fortt in an interview that AWS teams are working with customers that are trying to become more efficient.

“We do see some customers who are doing some belt-tightening now,” Selipsky said. One example is data analytics software maker Palantir, which said last month its operating profit in the third quarter was higher than expected primarily because of cloud and deployment efficiencies.

Other companies are in on the trend. NetApp and VMware have acquired startups to help businesses streamline their cloud spending. On the Reinvent exhibition floor, several companies were promoting their cost-trimming capabilities.

Zesty, which announced a $75 million funding round in September, added Sainsbury and Silicon Laboratories to its customer list in the current quarter. The company’s technology can automatically adjust the amount of storage space a company is using to avoid waste.

CEO Maxim Melamedov said Zesty picked up a bunch of new leads at its Reivent booth, where the startup was handing out candy, socks and stuffed animals and giving visitors the chance to win AirPods.

“Some of my guys lost their voices,” Melamedov said. “We are 15 people constantly on our feet. We’re constantly talking.”

WATCH: AWS CEO Adam Selipsky on impact of slowing economy, cloud consumption


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Two children and two adults survive after Tesla plunges 250 feet off California cliff

View from the helicopter during a rescue operation after a vehicle carrying two adults and two children went over a cliff in Devil’s Slide, San Mateo county, California, U.S., January 2, 2023, plunging hundreds of feet, according to the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, in this still image obtained from social media video.

CHP – Golden Gate Division | Reuters

Two adults and two children were rescued from a Tesla that plunged 250 feet off a cliff Monday morning in San Mateo County, California, officials said. 

The car was traveling southbound on the Pacific Coast Highway when it went over the cliff at Devil’s Slide, south of the Tom Lantos tunnel, and landed near the water’s edge below, the Cal Fire San Mateo-Santa Cruz Unit said. 

The car flipped and landed on its wheels in the fall, CAL FIRE/Coastside Fire Incident Commander Brian Pottenger said. Witnesses saw the accident and called 911. 

As crews were lowered down, they were able to see movement in the front seat, through their binoculars, meaning someone was alive.

“We were actually very shocked when we found survivable victims in the vehicle. So, that actually was a really hopeful moment for us,” Pottenger said. 

Fire officials called for helicopters to help hoist the survivors to safety. As they waited, firefighters rappelled to the scene and rescued the two children.

Rescue teams are seen at the scene as a Tesla with four occupants plunged over a cliff on Pacific Coast Highway 1 at Devils Slide on January 2, 2022 in San Mateo County, California, United States.

Tayfun Coskun | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images

The California Highway Patrol shared video on social media showing helicopters lower first responders to the scene to extricate and rescue two adults inside. 

All four were hospitalized. The San Mateo Sheriff’s Office said the two adults suffered non-life-threatening injuries and the two children were unharmed.

It’s not clear what caused the car to go over the cliff. CHP is handling the investigation. 

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Tesla shares tumble more than 10% following deliveries report

Tesla vehicles are shown at a sales and service center in Vista, California, June 3, 2022.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Shares of Tesla dropped 13% on Tuesday morning, a day after the electric auto maker reported fourth-quarter vehicle production and delivery numbers for 2022.

Deliveries are the closest approximation of sales disclosed by Tesla. The company reported 405,278 total deliveries for the quarter and 1.31 million total deliveries for the year. These numbers represented a record for the Elon Musk-led automaker and growth of 40% in deliveries year over year, but they fell shy of analysts’ expectations.

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Some analysts see a buying opportunity in Tesla for 2023 despite persistent demand pressures


According to a consensus of analysts’ estimates compiled by FactSet, as of Dec. 31, 2022, Wall Street was expecting Tesla to report around 427,000 deliveries for the final quarter of the year. Estimates updated in December, and included in the FactSet consensus, ranged from 409,000 to 433,000.

Those more recent estimates were in line with a company-compiled consensus distributed by Tesla investor relations Vice President Martin Viecha. 

Some Wall Street analysts think Tesla’s deliveries miss spells trouble for the electric vehicle maker, but others see a buying opportunity for the company in 2023.

Baird analyst Ben Kallo, who recently named Tesla a top pick for 2023, maintained an outperform rating and said he would remain a buyer of the stock ahead of the company’s earnings report, which is scheduled for Jan. 25.

“Q4 deliveries missed consensus but beat our estimates,” he said in a Tuesday note. “Importantly, production increased ~20% q/q which we expect to continue into 2023 as gigafactories in Berlin and Austin continue to ramp.”

Analysts at Goldman Sachs said they consider the delivery report to be an “incremental negative,” and view Tesla as a company that is “well positioned for long-term growth.” Goldman reiterated its buy rating on the stock in a Monday note and said that making vehicles more affordable in a challenging macroeconomic environment will be a “key driver of growth.”

“We believe key debates from here will be on whether vehicle deliveries can reaccelerate, margins and Tesla’s brand,” the analysts said.

Shares of Tesla suffered an extreme yearlong sell-off in 2022, prompting CEO Musk to tell employees in late December not to be “too bothered by stock market craziness.”

Musk has blamed Tesla’s declining share price in part on rising interest rates. But critics point to his rocky $44 billion Twitter takeover as a bigger culprit for the slide.

Morgan Stanley analysts said they think the company’s share price weakness is a “window of opportunity to buy.”

“Between a worsening macro backdrop, record high unaffordability, and increasing competition, there are hurdles for all auto companies to overcome in the year ahead,” they said in a note Tuesday. “However, within this backdrop we believe TSLA has the potential to widen its lead in the EV race, as it leverages its cost and scale advantages to further itself from the competition.”

CNBC’s Lora Kolodny and Michael Bloom contributed to this report.

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Tesla makes China boss Tom Zhu its highest-profile executive after Elon Musk

Tom Zhu Xiaotong, Tesla’s current executive in charge of China, speaks as a new Tesla experience store opens on Aug. 18, 2015 in Hangzhou, China.

Visual China Group | Getty Images

Tesla’s China chief Tom Zhu has been promoted to take direct oversight of the electric carmaker’s U.S. assembly plants as well as sales operations in North America and Europe, according to an internal posting of reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

The Tesla posting showed that Zhu’s title of vice president for Greater China had not changed and that he also retained his responsibilities as Tesla’s most senior executive for sales in the rest of Asia as of Tuesday.

The move makes Zhu the highest-profile executive at Tesla after Chief Executive Elon Musk, with direct oversight for deliveries in all of its major markets and operations of its key production hubs.

The reporting lines for Zhu would keep Tesla’s vehicle design and development — both areas where Musk has been heavily involved — separate while creating an apparent deputy to Musk on the more near-term challenges of managing global sales and output.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.

Reuters reviewed the organizational chart that had been posted internally by Tesla and confirmed the change with two people who had seen it. They asked not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter.

Elon Musk needs to go back to Tesla and have others run Twitter, says Jim Cramer

Zhu and a team of his reports were brought in by Tesla late last year to troubleshoot production issues in the United States, driving an expectation among his colleagues then that he was being groomed for a bigger role.

Zhu’s appointment to a global role comes at a time when Musk has been distracted by his acquisition of Twitter and Tesla analysts and investors have urged action that would deepen the senior executive bench and allow him to focus on Tesla.

Under Zhu, Tesla’s Shanghai plant rebounded strongly from Covid lockdowns in China.

Tesla said on Monday that it had delivered 405,278 vehicles in the fourth quarter, short of Wall Street estimates, according to data compiled by Refinitiv.

The company had delivered 308,600 vehicles in the same period a year earlier.

The Tesla managers reporting to Zhu include: Jason Shawhan, director of manufacturing at the Gigafactory in Texas; Hrushikesh Sagar, senior director of manufacturing at Tesla’s Fremont factory; Joe Ward, vice president in charge of Europe, the Middle East and Africa; and Troy Jones, vice president of North America sales and service, according to the Tesla notice on reporting lines reviewed by Reuters.

Tesla country managers in China, Japan, Australia and New Zealand continued to report to Zhu, the notice showed.

Zhu does not have a direct report at Tesla’s still-ramping Berlin plant, but a person with knowledge of the matter said responsibility for that operation would come with the reporting line for Amsterdam-based Ward. Ward could not be immediately reached for comment.

Zhu, who was born in China but now holds a New Zealand passport, joined Tesla in 2014. Before that he was a project manager at a company established by his MBA classmates at Duke University, advising Chinese contractors working on infrastructure projects in Africa.

During Shanghai’s two-month Covid lockdown, Zhu was among the first batch of employees sleeping in the factory as they sought to keep it running, people who work with him have said.

Zhu, a no-fuss manager who sports a buzz cut, favors Tesla-branded fleece jackets and has lived in a government-subsidized apartment that is a 10-minute drive from the Shanghai Gigafactory. It was not immediately clear whether he would move after his promotion.

He takes charge of Tesla’s main production hubs at a time when the company is readying the launch of Cybertruck and a revamped version of its Model 3 sedan. Tesla has also said it is developing a cheaper electric vehicle but has not provided details on that plan.

When Tesla posted a picture on Twitter last month to celebrate its Austin, Texas, plant hitting a production milestone for its Model Y, Zhu was among hundreds of workers smiling on the factory floor.

Why China is beating the U.S. in electric vehicles

Allan Wang, who was promoted to vice president in charge of sales in China in July, was listed as the legal representative for the operation in registration papers filed with Chinese regulators in a change by the company last month.

Tesla board member James Murdoch said in November the company had recently identified a potential successor to Musk without naming the person. Murdoch did not respond to a request for comment.

Electrek previously reported that Zhu would take responsibility for U.S. sales, delivery and service.

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