Could Amazon.com have hammered a nail into the entirely useful financial sub-culture of pro forma accounting? Amazon executives pulled the rug out from under the doubting Thomases when they reported a US$5 million net profit for the fourth quarter according to generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP). It could be the end of an era as quarter after quarter of dazzling pro forma numbers have now been derailed by a bona-fide three months in the black. Meaning 'as if', pro forma accounting was originally intended to create a hypothetical set of accounts to marry the results of two companies undergoing merger. It strips out those annoying little items which traditional accounting uncharitably includes, such as acquisition costs or taxes on stock option exercises. During the boom of former United States president Bill Clinton's time it became one of the most useful tools in finance because it showed what an ideal world looked like and disproved those who insist that a sow's ear cannot be turned into a silk purse. In fact, pro forma numbers showed that a sow's ear could be turned into a silk purse with a buy recommendation from Merrill Lynch. Everyone at the upper end of the food chain loves pro forma treatment of accounts because it allows them to tinker with the numbers until they prove that, while boring GAAP numbers are showing a company deep in the red, your online business-to-business hammock and avocado exchange is actually a General Electric in disguise. Now killjoys - encouraged by the little bumps in the road at Enron Corp - are calling for pro forma accounting to go the way of the Rubik's cube. We, however, would argue that its use should be widened beyond the financial world. It is a pity, for example, that pro forma accounting was not as established when I failed my biology exam in 1987. Through a carefully maintained regime of procrastination and outright laziness, I managed to earn a 'D' in that exam and a bawling out from mum. However, if I had presented my mother with my pro forma grades, which would obviously strip out the time I should have been studying and instead decided to watch television, I am sure that she would have been happy with my 'B' grade. Similarly, when your doctor tells you that with a cholesterol count of 400, you should not expect to live beyond 50, respond to the contrary - that, stripping out the cheeseburgers, chain smoking and lack of discernible exercise, your cholesterol actually stands at a pro forma number of 60 and you can expect a fit and happy pro forma life expectancy of well past 80. Tung Chee-hwa clearly needs to hire some US auditors. Those grumbling about this year's budget deficit of HK$60 billion would surely be silenced with a sprinkling of the pro forma magic powder. Back of an envelope calculations show that the deficit would actually be a pro forma surplus of more than $120 billion - stripping out those annoying un-pro forma items like public services, civil service pay and the Hong Kong population. A little pro forma hot stepping could go a long way up north as well. The Government has spoken of landing a Chinese person on the moon by 2010. Why wait eight years for the results? They could produce a pro forma report on the moon programme tomorrow showing that a Chinese person was putting pro forma golf balls somewhere near the Sea of Tranquility last week - stripping out actually getting to the moon, landing and exiting the spacecraft. So, a plea to Amazon executives and those who would have us live in a world without pro forma accounting. Far from abandoning its use, we ask that it be expanded and encouraged beyond the world of accounting and it can benefit us all for pro forma years to come or a couple of months, according to GAAP.