I first came across J2 Global Communications (NASDAQ:JCOM) a long while back, when it popped up on some screens I was running. At the time, it was trading at about $8 a share. I tried out some of the firm's patented communications-integration services -- like the one that sends faxes to your email -- and wrote off J2 thinking, "Pfft. That's cool, but how many people will pay for it?"

Big mistake. Not only are plenty of people shelling out for J2's services (with record results just out), but the stock ran north of $45 back in October. Even if I had held through the precipitous decline to today's $23, I'd still be sitting on a three-bagger.

Maybe it's time to give J2 another peek. Yesterday, the firm reported a pretty impressive 2003. Full-year revenues were up 49% to $71.6 million, while earnings jumped 137%. Before you run off to call your broker, consider that there were plenty of special charges and tax benefits cooked into those GAAP results. But even backing out the fliers, earnings rose 96% to $26.3 million, and J2 produced $29.3 million in free cash flow. That's still cooking, and there's little sign of a cool off.

The company guided 2004 revenue growth in the neighborhood of 40%, so why is this stock languishing in the low 20s? Simple: The tax man cometh. Much of J2's hot growth has benefited from tax carryovers in the lean years. A profitable J2 is going to have to ante up Uncle Sam's share of profits and that has spooked some investors.

But 2004's net earnings should end up near $1.08 per share. Granted, it looks like a drop compared to 2003, but pre-tax earnings estimates of $1.70 for 2004 represent a 50% increase over this year. Once investors get over the tax shock, they ought to notice that J2 is still growing quickly, and it's trading around 21 times estimates. For those paying attention now, the price looks like a deal considering J2's fat gross margins of 81% and growth prospects. However, if you're the type who can't ride a roller coaster with a bellyful of corndogs, watch out. J2 provides a pretty wild ride.

Get the real oil on J2 from the experts in the J2 Global Communications and Fab 15 & Friends discussion boards.

Flat-earther Seth Jayson prefers letters sent by paper airplane, but he will also read email.