A silver lining in the clouds over Amazon?

Rob Hof

Investors sure whomped Amazon.com Feb. 3, the day after it missed fourth-quarter profit expectations. But they may have overlooked an intriguing sign of better things to come. ...

What most investors missed was a $244 million tax benefit that implies much more than a nice onetime boost. I won't bore you with the details of how Amazon came up with that number, which has to do with accounting arcana called net operating loss carryforwards. But according to Caris & Co.'s David Garrity, the upshot is this: The tax benefit is an indication that Amazon's management sees considerably better profits, as much as $700 million pretax, in the next five years or so. By Garrity's calculations, that translates a market value of about $7 a share--a little more than the amount the stock dropped post-earnings. "This is a signal that the company's underlying profitability will be higher--by a large margin," he told me.

This kind of benefit--as an estimate, it's both long-term and far from certain--may not comfort investors. They just want to know whether to buy in the next quarter or two. But it certainly indicates Amazon sees more opportunity than bearish investors.

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