OK, OK, the questions on this one are getting a bit overwhelming — and I’m afraid that if I don’t cover this one soon the villagers will soon be gathering their fiery torches and marching on Castle Gumshoe … so here goes.
Louis Basenese and the folks at Wall Street Daily are pitching his MicroCap Tech Trader by promising huge returns for a small company that he thinks holds the key to secure NFC transactions — and which will generate big licensing revenues as their key patents are put into use by Google and Apple, among others.
So what’s he talking about? Well, much of the ad is about the risks and promise of near field communications (NFC) — this is a wireless protocol, kind of like bluetooth but shorter range, that allows two devices that are typically within a few inches of each other to communicate. In practice, the consumer-facing applications are mostly smart cards (like you might use for your local transit system), contactless payment cards or keyfobs (like that little ExxonMobil keychain you can wave in front of the pump to pay for your gas), or, in the next wave of this development, NFC chips in cell phones that let you use your phone as a “digital wallet.”
In all cases, NFC security is an issue — that’s because you don’t have to hold the card or phone to connect with the NFC chip, it’s wireless and someone with a transmitter might be able to snoop on your wireless transactions or even ping your card, chip or phone to try to “hack” it to get the pertinent numbers and ID info. That’s why you see them marketing NFC-blocking wallets with layers of aluminum (or whatever) to prevent snoopers from sniffing out any cards you’re carrying, and that’s why, to at least some extent, NFC and the “mobile wallet” cell phone that you use to pay for everything haven’t really taken off yet — though both are more prevalent in some Asian and European countries than they are here.
That’s not the only thing slowing the adoption of the chip-based “cell phone as wallet,” of course — there are plenty of security concerns, but there’s also the lack of clear standards, competition among providers and payment processors and lack of easy interoperability, the rising capabilities of app-based or other non-chip payment solutions (you can pay via PayPal or your smart phone at Home Depot or Starbucks, for example, and those don’t use NFC chips).
And there’s also the simple fact that consumer acceptance of new trends is often very slow — particularly for financial products. People are comfortable with credit cards, for the most part, and NFC isn’t that much faster or easier — but debit card use only exceeded check use a few years ago, and though check use is still falling sharply there are still billions of checks processed every year by the Federal Reserve. The impatient foot tapping you do when the person in front of you in the express line at the grocery store when tries to buy two cans of tuna and pay with a check may not be necessary soon, but it doesn’t mean that person will be paying with their cell phone next year.
There are also, as you might expect, roughly a gazillion companies trying to get their foot in the door in NFC payments, whether they’re card or reader makers, software or security companies, chipmakers or payment processors or phone builders … everyone wants to have a piece if this turns into something big. And big is expected, though soothsaying the speed of acceptance is not easy — early adopters and futurists have been predicting the mass consumer rollout of the “mobile wallet” and cell phone payments for more than a decade now, the technology to use a chip in your phone to make a payment has been around for longer than “smart phones” (contactless chip-enabled payments by mobile phone were launched commercially in Japan and South Korea a decade ago — not without challenges, but they’re pretty established at point of sale terminals and in vending machines thanks to that head start at working through the challenges and the tech early adopter culture in those countries).
So that’s the backdrop, as best as I can share with you in a few moments — what, then, is the specific little company that Louis Basenese is teasing as a key player, a company that he thinks will have licensing deals, key announcements by August 14, and good exposure on Apple and Android devices very soon?
Well, for that we’ll need some clues. Unless, that is, you’d like to pop over and subscribe for $3,500?
Oh, wait, this is also one of those “we’re going to write you a check” teasers — so it’s not $3,500, it’s $3,500 minus the check for $2,650 they send you … so the newsletter is actually going for $850 these days.
But regardless of whether or not you want to pony up that kind of cash for a breakthrough-tech newsletter, I’m guessing you’d like to know the name of the stock first, right? Take away that crazy “tell me the secret now!” impulse, and make a sober decision about subscribing after a good night’s sleep? Sure, we can do that — I’m certain I won’t cover the stock as thoroughly as Basenese, and I won’t tell you whether or not to buy it, but I’m pretty sure we can identify it for you. And the price? Much more free-ish (though of course, we always delight in welcoming new members to the Irregulars, our $49 a year premium membership group — just to entice you further, those folks would have already seen the answer to this teaser and a nice quick summary in the beige box on the left).
So what are our clues from Mr. Basenese and the MicroCap Tech Trader?
Well, they’re frankly a bit thin — so we might not reach 100% certainty in our match today — but this is what we get:
“… for the better part of a decade now, the world’s corporate giants have been building the infrastructure for ‘mobile wallets’ and wireless payments to become the industry standard.
“Their logic is pretty straightforward…
“Easier ways to pay for products and services will mean more sales. A lot more sales!
“The technology powering everything is called near-field communications. Or ‘NFC,’ for short, which allows for easy, convenient payments at stores around the world.
“The heavyweights are pushing all their chips in on NFC.
“In fact, credit card giant, Visa, has predicted that people born over the past five years will never own a physical wallet.”
So the argument, basically, is that there is such a massive, global, corporate push for NFC payments that they will overcome the security concerns — and at least in part, they’ll do so using the technology of this company that he’s teasing. Or, as he puts it more floridly:
“Armed with only a smartphone, crooks can steal a mountain of credit card numbers with little more than the touch of a finger.
“More credit cards just got stolen this very second.
“Beep. Beep. Beep.
“And the giant corporations are powerless to stop it from happening.
“They haven’t been able to develop the software smart enough to stump the crooks.
“They’ve tried everything, too!
“Enter one tiny company trading for less than two bucks.
“A company that holds every conceivable patent needed to stop these thieves dead in their tracks.
“By extension, this tiny company is also the gatekeepers to the entire trillion-dollar M-Commerce market.
“I expect The Bigs to secure this brilliant anti-theft technology for themselves any minute.”
So … any more specific clues hiding in all this puffery? Here’s what I found to feed into the Thinkolator for you:
“This time, the announcement concerns a company trading for less than $2/share….
“I’ve been tracking this company’s innovation from the very point of inception.
“I’ll see it through to its completion, too, which could happen as early as August 14, 2013….
“… this less than $2-a-share, San Diego outfit already has all the necessary patents in place…
“The biggest companies in the world MUST deal with it.
“These patents can secure their transactions, and get their $1 trillion juggernaut rolling….
” I’ll rush you that certified check for $2,650….
“You can do as you please with the money….
“… you’ll want to use the cash to purchase shares of this tiny company.
“At current prices, that’s about 1,800 shares. [note: that would be a price around $1.50]”
So that gets us partway there. A little more?
“one single investor (the man I told you about earlier) has already snatched up an amazing 38% of the company’s shares.
“Here’s the deal…
The two largest players in the smartphone market - the giants responsible for more than 94% of every smartphone in the world - are poised to start deploying this tiny, less than $2-a-share outfit’s technology.
“This company is in substantive discussions with multiple partners.
“And its ground-breaking patented technology stands to become THE standard of protection for nearly every smartphone on the planet.
And he says his “Validation Report” on this stock includes:
“Confirmation of a market-ready, antitheft prototype for the Android.
“Confirmation of the first antitheft prototype for the iPhone.
“And all the details concerning the August 14 announcement where I believe news of a partnership will hit.
“A partnership that could ultimately lead to this company’s technology protecting all Apple and Google wireless devices.”
And, of course, it’s small and uncovered:
“most everyone knows that mobile payments will ultimately become the industry standard, no one realizes that a tiny company stands as the gatekeeper…. not a single Wall Street analyst is even formally covering the stock.”
And there’s a big insider buying, we’re told:
“A short while ago, one single investor - just one - increased his stake to nearly 40% of this company’s outstanding stock.
“Nobody - and I mean nobody - takes a stake like that in a tiny company trading for less than $2. That is, unless they KNOW something big is unfolding.”
Phew! So, a few clues hiding in that mishmosh of temptation. What’s our stock?
This is, so sez the Mighty, Mighty Thinkolator, ImageWare Systems (IWSY, trades over the counter)
And yes, it’s quite small — market cap around $140 million now that it’s run up with the attention from Basenese. And it does have a 38%-owning insider, Director Neal Goldman of Goldman Capital Management (not Goldman Sachs, just to be clear), though the shares he’s added over the last year have all been options exercises.
Though they do position themselves as having a security solution for the “mobile wallet” and mobile transactions, they do so with biometrics — this is a biometric security software company that was focused initially on photo and face recognition when they were a stock market darling in 2001 and hit $14 briefly (I expect their biometrics technology is face recognition, but I’m not sure about that). The stock declined pretty gradually over the early 2000s, coming to a head when they were delisted from AMEX when the price stayed under a dollar in 2008.
They describe their main offerings related to secure identities here.
And the basic catalysts that Basenese appears to be foreseeing are described (though with perhaps less certainty) in the conference call they hosted to give a “business update” about a month ago — you can see the transcript of that call here, but the basic “upside” possibility comes from this bit from CEO Jim Miller:
“We have reached a very exciting crossroads where the cloud and mobile computing have intersected with biometrics. The rapid expansion in availability and use of mobile devices presents an incredible opportunity. As these devices have become culturally ubiquitous and nothing short of phenomenal in their reliability and robustness, the door has swung open to provide security for the myriad of transactions that occur on these devices every single day. While you can easily ascertain that it’s my phone or my device, you can never really be sure who exactly is using it. The more transactions and sensitive information that can be accessed via mobile devices, the important it is that this critical security piece of the puzzle be solved. Happily, it’s this solution that the new generation of ImageWare products addresses and solves.
“We have also continued to develop and advance our biometric secured mobile transaction technology that is built upon the patented wireless interactive messaging technology we acquired from VOCEL last year. We’ve now married this technology with our Biometric Engine and other existing foundational patents to build interactive mobile applications that can be secured biometrically.
“On the last call, we announced that we introduced the first demonstration models of this mobile technology on the Android platform to key potential corporate users. We have now a production release of our Android product and will soon release our iPhone demonstration product. We are currently in substantive discussions with several new clients regarding licensing opportunities. We strongly believe that the combination of these technologies provides yet another substantial competitive advantage for ImageWare.”
The company believes it’s on track to generate enough cash flow to cover costs as they start to sign more licensing deals (they’ve signed one so far, it appears, with global payments processor Emida), so they think they’ll have enough cash and liquidity for the year — thanks partly to a line of credit from their largest shareholder (Neal Goldman again). So I guess quite a lot is probably riding on their next six months or so of potential deals and rollout of their technology to a possibly broader audience.
I have absolutely no idea whether or not they will build a meaningful user base or achieve any kind of leadership in mobile security or authentication for mobile payments or anything else, they but I’m quite sure this is the pick Basenese is touting. It’s the very definition of a “story stock”, you certainly can’t justify the valuation based on their current business or financial position or even on the orders and deals they’ve made, it’s too early in the process to have any idea what their revenue potential might be or whether the product will become important to consumers or payment processors or retailers … but if it can grow into that story that Louis Basenese spins and generate a little tiny penny of revenue from each of billions of mobile transactions someday, well, then it’s a cheap buy with massive potential growth.
There are lots of biometric security companies out there, and lots of mobile security companies and technologies, most of which probably won’t become critically important — so you have to have confidence in the technology and the story to want to buy this. I do not know how valuable their patents might be — they bought the key patents from Vocel that they think will help them expand into the consumer market more aggressively just last year, and most of their work seems to have been with governments before that — credentialing and IDs and border authentication stuff, as far as I can tell.
IWSY has generated no meaningful amount of revenues over the past decade, and have churned through well over $100 million in losses during that time, so perhaps all that investment in their technology will come to something? That’s your call to make, let us know if you’ve an opinion to share with a comment below.
P.S. No, I don’t know if there’s anything other than guesstimates behind the August 12 date that Basenese teases — whether he thinks they’re just a couple months from more deals or product announcements (like an iPhone product), or will have an other corporate update by then (they did issue a “progress report” in mid-August last year). That’s right around when their next 10-Q quarterly report is due to be filed with the SEC, so maybe it’s just that and a hope that they’ll begin to report higher cash flow by then.