Jeff Bezos

Amazon.com has long existed on another investment plane — ready to post losses year after year as it spent to boost growth.

That might be about to change.

Citi analyst Mark May argued today that the company, which is often gauged on its revenue, could start to show real profits, with earnings per share hitting $20 for 2018.

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ ethos of believing ‘you have to be willing to be misunderstood if you’re going to innovate’ aptly captures the investment narrative around Amazon since the company’s inception,” May said. “But its commitment to turning a consistent profit and becoming a ‘conventional business’ have been consistently questioned by investors.”

Last year, Amazon logged losses of $241 million, or 52 cents a share, on sales of $89 billion.

While May said Amazon was unlikely to become a “conventional business” any time soon, he said, “the recent improvement in [Amazon’s] overall margins and profitability is sustainable and we are not only one to two years away from investors being able to not only value Amazon on a price/earnings basis, but see upside from current levels.”

Amazon’s been getting a lot of attention for its high-margin Web services business, but Citi said the company has plenty of growth in its core retail business.

May’s “upside case” for the company’s next few years projects that retail revenues from North America will rise to $105 billion in 2018 from $64 billion this year. The international retail business is seen jumping to $55 billion from $36 billion.

That kind of sales growth — which would represent only a part of the total gross merchandise value of goods sold on the e-commerce platform — spells continued pressure for just about everybody else.

A recent survey by Cowen and Co. showed that more people turned to Amazon than Wal-Mart or Target to buy apparel last month.

If Amazon starts posting not just big revenue numbers, but big-profit ones as well, it will solidify the company’s positioning and give it more leeway to take market share and make it even harder to compete against.

Already, the company is known for its hard-charging ways and has been criticized for how it treats its workers. But executives have argued that it’s a retailer just like any other.

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