Bernstein Sees More Operating Margin Gains Ahead For Amazon

| About:, Inc. (AMZN) (NASDAQ:AMZN) shares were higher Monday morning after Bernstein Research’s Jeffrey Lindsay raised his rating on the company to Outperform from Market Perform. He also lifted his price target on AMZN to $95 from $81.

Lindsay writes that Amazon “has proven its case for top-line growth,” growing the top line 32% year-over-year in Q1 and 35% in Q2. “However, we believe there is a further leg of value growth to come from operating margin improvements,” he writes. Lindsay contends the company’s operating margins can reach 6.2% by 2011, up from 3.6% in 2006, “significantly increasing earnings and cash flow.”

A major catalyst for expected margin improvement, he writes, is the recent launch of the company’s Merchants platform for third-party sellers in Europe and Japan. He notes that the program was not available in Europe until the end of last year, and only became open to third parties in Japan earlier this year.

He points out that margins are higher on third-party sales than on direct sales, since Amazon does not handle inventory and fulfillment for those transactions. And he also notes that while U.S. sales are about 50% from third parties, the level is much lower in other markets.