Amazon’s great expectations

October 23, 2007, 5:08 PM UTC

amazon chart

Amazon (AMZN) will have to pull off another amazing quarter when it reports earnings today to prove to Wall Street that it’s still the hottest tech stock in town.

The Seattle-based online retailer’s stock has jumped by 130% since it reported its standout first-quarter earnings back in April. Investor enthusiasm has been buoyed by the company’s cutback in technology spending and move into digital services like Tivo downloads as well as by the success of Amazon Prime, a service that offers unlimited free shipping to premium members. Amazon’s shares closed at $91.29 on Monday.

The consensus among analysts is that Amazon’s pricey stock is near its saturation point. What’s up for debate is how much higher the price of its shares can go. Analysts expect Amazon to earn 18 cents per share on $3.14 billion in revenue when it reports its third-quarter earnings after the market closes today, according to Thomson Financial.

Two straight blowout quarters caused Amazon’s stock to more than double in value in the last six months. But some analysts question if the valuation is getting out of hand and outpacing the company’s fundamentals.

Bear Stearns analyst Robert Peck said that the share price was already at its limit. “Amazon will have to reaccelerate tech spending in order to support growth and remain competitive, given the spate of evolving technologies on the web,” he noted in his latest report.

Analysts will be paying close attention to assessing the company’s operating margins, its third-party sales and the growth of web services. Lazard Capital Markets’ analyst Colin Sebastian says third-quarter margins could be slightly lower than analysts’ expectations because of sales of the final Harry Potter book, which it sold at a deep discount.

“It’s a very different situation when it was $45 a share,” says Sebastian. “It didn’t really matter where Amazon’s profitability was coming from as long as it happened. At this price, we’re going to have to see progress from all sides.”