I certainly got one thing right. I stated ahead of Overstock.com’s (NASDAQ:OSTK) second-quarter earnings report that either two things will happen: OSTK stock will look like a brilliant trade or a toxic asset. If the markets have anything to say, it appears to be the former.
Prior to the Q2 conference call, OSTK gained 4.5% over the prior session. Notably, volume levels at just under 2.9 million shares were substantially higher than recent averages. Considering the market sentiment and Overstock’s strong fan base, you would have expected the Q2 results to be favorable. In my opinion, they were anything but.
The company reported a per-share earnings loss of $2.20. As I stated previously, consensus estimates targeted an EPS loss of 82 cents. I can’t stress this enough: we’re not in the same ballpark. According to Zacks, this huge miss represents a negative earnings surprise of 168.3%.
Obviously, I don’t know how the markets will react to OSTK stock over the next few days. But I’m sure even the most bullish investor who is so far ignoring the fundamentals must come to their senses. Over the last six quarters, the least-damaging earnings miss was in Q1 2018.
At that time, the negative earnings surprise was 71.4%.
Another bad miss was the tZERO initial coin offering. Overstock’s goal was to bring in $250 million through the ICO. Instead, it only brought in $134 million, more than 46% below target. The company has a history of making bold claims, but falling short.
However, these misses didn’t hurt OSTK stock. Overstock hauled in $483 million in revenue, which was a solid beat. More importantly, GSR Capital announced a $270 million investment into the tZERO platform. As a result, shares jumped 21% in afterhours trading.
Cult of Personality Drives OSTK Stock
If you’re a casual observer, the bullishness toward OSTK stock appears a strange phenomenon. Overall, the company’s financials aren’t terrible, but they’re not great either. While revenue growth has been strong recently, the deep profitability misses are distracting, to say the least. And as you might expect, its free cash flow has steadily taken on red ink.
While the company maintains its online-retail business, you can tell the focus has shifted toward its tZERO cryptocurrency. Inventory levels are kept down to barebones levels, resulting in exaggerated turnover rates. If you didn’t know about Overstock’s blockchain ventures, you’d likely raise a red flag.
In other words, if Overstock was strictly an online retailer, you wouldn’t rate OSTK stock that highly. But because Overstock is now a blockchain company, investors are willing to ignore critical flaws. That tells me that the primary driver for OSTK is a cult of personality.
Investors love big claims, and Overstock’s CEO Patrick Byrne loves giving them. Last year, Byrne claimed that the blockchain can eradicate poverty by allowing people to protect their property rights. That’s not all. The eccentric head executive also stated that the blockchain can resolve pension crises, reduce terrorism, and revolutionize securities lending.
He’s probably right about the latter, but that’s about it. Nevertheless, over the past few years, Bloomberg Businessweek characterized Byrne as a born-again crypto-evangelist. He has spoken endlessly about bitcoin and the blockchain, and how they will take over the world.
For his part, Byrne wants to offer the first Securities and Exchange Commission-approved crypto exchange. I just don’t see that happening.
The SEC is a very conservative organization. They investigate outlandish investment claims like flies on stink.
I Don’t Trust Overstock’s Leadership
I’ll gladly admit that I didn’t see the massive double-digit move in OSTK stock coming. I was wrong about that. But I don’t think I’ll be wrong about the company’s longer-term trajectory.
For instance, I cast doubt on OSTK stock in late January of this year. Prior to the Q2 report, shares had fallen 48% since my article was published. Even taking into account recent trading, shares are still down significantly.
Aside from the confused business strategy from e-commerce to blockchain and back, I just don’t trust Overstock’s leadership. As we learned from Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) Elon Musk, leadership matters. I’m worried that with OSTK stock, we’re going to suffer Musk 2.0.
Byrne, like Musk, hates criticism. In 2004, Byrne accused a Fortune contributor of giving bankers oral pleasure when the author wrote a perceived negative story. Both execs hate short-sellers with a passion. Indeed, I shudder to think what descriptors Byrne would use.
Yet in his written message for Q2, the Overstock CEO signed off as “Your humble servant.” This has got to be the biggest whopper of them all. I’m more inclined to believe that blockchain will bring peace in the Middle East or help the Cleveland Browns win a Super Bowl than to imagine Byrne as humble.
A little bit of bravado is refreshing. But when it forms the basis of a company’s business strategy, I have to call it quits. Constant arrogance isn’t good for a country, a car company or the blockchain.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto is long bitcoin.