Needle Exchange

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TWO WEEKS AGO, online retailer claimed to have finally grown into its britches, posting a first-time quarterly net profit that raised eyebrows across the nation. Could Seattle lay claim to a true paragon of the dot-com era, one of the rare few that won't bite the bust? Perhaps Northwest newspapers should have gotten help from Arthur Andersen.

When The Wall Street Journal closely examined Amazon's rosy annual report, it found $166.7 million of the company's reported liquid assets were pledged "as collateral for a host of financial obligations." The pledged securities represent more than half of Amazon's year-end working capital, meaning the company's wad of spending loot may be a lot thinner than investors believed. Amazon detractors quoted in the Feb. 4 article are betting the company's stock will fall. But does it mean Amazon is a ticking debt bomb? Analysts interviewed by the Journal couldn't agree. And Amazon executives say everything is still going swell.

Kevin Fullerton

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