I am of two minds concerning Clover Health (NASDAQ:CLOV) and CLOV Stock.
I’m intrigued by Clover’s chief technology officer Andrew Toy’s plans to cut the cost of serving older patients through the Clover Assistant. The Assistant is a clinical support system that makes extensive use of telehealth and mail-in pharmacies, lowering costs while improving care.
I’m unhappy with the Reddit crowd sending Clover stock up on bad news, and its history as a special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) sponsored by Chamath Paliphapitiya. I worry about even more bad news.
It’s the bearish view that’s winning on Wall Street. Clover stock has lost nearly 80% of its value in the last year. Does this mean I now have a good entry point? Or is there more dirt under the surface?
Let’s break down some of my concerns further.
Over the last few months Toy has become the face of the company. He’s a tech entrepreneur who sold his first start-up, called Divide, to Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL). He has a clear vision of what Clover Assistant can become.
Toy’s view is that older patients will depend on technology for medical contacts if it provides value to them. The COVID-19 pandemic offered an opportunity. Instead of going to doctors’ offices, they could use tablets to stage virtual visits, the doctor practically coming to them. With 75% of America’s healthcare bills devoted to chronic conditions like diabetes and obesity, billions of dollars can be saved if people just take their medicine. That requires trust. Telehealth can create it, and profits will follow.
But while Toy focuses on cutting the costs of Medicare, chief executive officer Vivek Garipalli is busy exploiting the current system. He’s accused of using his control over three New Jersey hospitals to shift costs and earn huge profits. His partners in that group, called CarePoint, are now suing to keep him from making the hospitals non-profits, alleging it’s just a way to keep the scams going.
It’s CarePoint that was the primary focus of a Hindenburg Research report a year ago, which brought shorts into the stock, then small investors through Reddit to support it. The argument was that Clover Assistant was supporting the cost-shifting. It alleged there were Department of Justice investigations into kickbacks and undisclosed third party deals.
The company’s financial results support both cases. The September quarter saw losses amounting to only 6% of revenue, while the June quarter saw huge losses. Cash reserves by September had dropped to $202 million.
Despite Toy’s arguments for cutting costs, Clover Health is still basically a Medicare Advantage company. Its success depends on convincing aging middle-class consumers to supplement their government healthcare with its offering. This makes it a direct competitor to the industry’s largest players, including United Healthcare (NYSE:UNH), Anthem (NYSE:ANTM) and CVS Health (NYSE:CVS), all of which have huge asset bases and marketing budgets.
Health plans are usually sold in the fourth quarter. This means Clover’s fourth quarter report, due Feb. 8, is crucial. Analysts expect a loss but it’s the top line, the number of policies it sells for 2022, that should matter more.
The Bottom Line on CLOV Stock
After I last wrote about CLOV stock in December, I seriously thought about buying the stock.
I didn’t. I’m glad I didn’t. The stock is down another 21% in just the last month.
The line between entrepreneur and promoter, or promoter and scam artist, is thinner than most investors are told. Toy looks and sounds like an entrepreneur. But having just a vision is no solution. Everything depends on execution. Without more money coming in from policyholders, Clover will quickly run out of cash.
I want Toy’s software. I don’t want Garipalli’s company. I’ll continue to avoid CLOV stock for now and suggest you do the same.
On the date of publication, Dana Blankenhorn held no positions in any company mentioned in this story. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.
Dana Blankenhorn has been a financial journalist since 1978. His latest book is Technology’s Big Bang: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow with Moore’s Law, essays on technology available at the Amazon Kindle store. Follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn.