05 November 2010

Failing to Feed the Monster

Overstock held its conference call on Wednesday to discuss third quarter earnings.

You can see the transcript here.

I've also attached their one-year stock chart. As you can see, there was a strong upward move in the early spring of this year. At the vernal equinox, the price was under $15, through May it was repeatedly close to or above $24.

It lost all of that gain over the course of the spring and summer, and was back at $14 in August. Yesterday, November 4, it closed at $13.39.

The stock has also been underperforming the indexes markedly since August, when it reported a second quarter loss of $1.4 million.

On this week's call, OSTK officials discussed another loss, for the 3d quarter, this time of more than $3.3 million, or 15 cents per share.

I maintain some skepticism over the value of Overstock's numbers, a skepticism I explained in posts on my other (now-suspended) blog in February, and before that.

In my humble opinion (and in the opinion of observers who have looked into the matter quite keenly), Overstock created a cookie-jar reserve for itself in 2008. It inflated its 2009 results with the help of that reserve. The problem, though, is that once you start doing that, you'll find it tough to maintain. The cookie jar runs empty, and you have to get ever-more creative.

I suspect that Overstock's creativity has failed, and so it is now reporting the kinds of losses it would have been reporting for some time had it not engaged in trickery. Thus, the hit it has taken on its stock price.

I have no personal position, long or short, on OSTK, by the way. Furthermore, I am not giving financial advice, except to say that if you are going to invest in the stock market in any capacity, you would be an idiot to rely on anything you saw in a blog, including this one. Also, picking stocks for most people is a fool's errand anyway.

Still: there is an empty cookie jar from OSTK's kitchen and a rather bad odor wafting thence.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.