We’ve got a big new cryptocurrency-related pitch to look at for you today, and since it’s from Ray Blanco at Agora’s Breakthrough Technology Alert, one of the most heavily-marketed newsletters around, you’ll probably see the ad soon if you haven’t already.
It’s all about what Ray Blanco calls “The Stockchain” … which is basically the next wave of blockchain adoption, as it goes from being an alt-currency story to becoming the foundational technology for all financial transactions (stock market, bond market, etc.)
And, of course, he doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to hyperbole or ridiculous “promises”… including the notion that this blockchain will quickly becoming 9,303 times bigger than every single crypto-currency as we see it ring “The Opening Bell for the Wyoming Stock Exchange.”
But let’s try to read between the lines, sift through the hype, and figure out what it is he’s actually recommending. Here’s a little taste to get you started…
“You see, the crypto-currency revolution feels like it hit us with lightning speed.
“Yet in reality, it took a full 9 years for it to all unfold, from start to finish.
“What I’ve named the Stockchain opportunity will hit much, much faster….
“The ‘Stockchain’ is what happens when the whole world’s stocks, bonds, and derivatives suddenly FLOOD the crypto blockchain.
“Just like we saw all those currencies do over the past 9 years.
“So as you can expect, it’s likely to also result in the sudden and shocking DEATH of Wall Street.”
He runs through a few pages of righteous anger there, which is really probably what gets those “I gotta subscribe” synapses firing — accusing Wall Street of ripping us all off since the days of the trades under the buttonwood tree.
And for just $2,000 a year for the subscription to this newsletter, you get, at least for the moment, that feeling that you might get rich… which really gets those dopamine receptors firing:
“This will make the crypto-currency revolution look like a summertime lemonade stand, run by your neighbor’s cute little first grader.
“(So whether you went ahead and dipped a toe into crypto-coins last year, or just patiently watched for for the bubble to pop, THIS is the moment you’ve been waiting for all along.)
“And yes — that simple insight could make you very, very rich.”
But now let’s move past that promise, and the daydreams of wealth, and get to exactly what he’s talking about.
It’s a stock, not an alt-currency or a special token or coin — he clearly notes that you can use any brokerage account….
“Unlike Bitcoin and other crypto-currencies, it’s ridiculously easy to make the 1 Stockchain trade I’m recommending today.
“You just enter the 4 letter code I’ll give you into any major brokerage and you’re done.”
OK… so we buy a stock to get our crazy riches… which one?
The most specific clue we get is this quote, buried in the middle of the ad:
“As this venture capitalist said recently about the concept behind his revolutionary new idea, that I call the “Wyoming Stock Exchange”:
‘I think it’s a historic event. We’re opening a new type of capital market’ XXXX told Coindesk”
And this “new type of capital market” apparently already exists…
“His new exchange is ALREADY ready for business. Like a big open pipeline that’s ready to handle a FLOOD of new fuel.
“Except that fuel is PURE MONEY. And before long…
“Every financial security transaction in the entire world could flow though it.
“Supposing my latest research is as accurate as I forecast:
“Act today and you could be a millionaire by summer…”
Well sheesh, I can make you a millionaire by summer, too… you just have to pony up $995,000 or so, and I’ll turn it into a million dollars in a few months. Saying that you “could be a millionaire” without once referencing how much you’d have to invest to get that end result is specious, at best.
But anyway, who is this guy, and what do we do to invest in his technology? A few more clues…
“I believe in technology because I believe in the PEOPLE behind it…
“… the next technology supergenius isn’t always hanging out where you expect him to be….
“He made mega-bucks in the original Internet revolution that made companies like Google and Amazon into household names. He was even named Entrepreneur of the Year But he kept a low profile… and kept looking for the NEXT big thing.
“Four years ago, he found it.
“This legendary venture capitalist became the first CEO in the world to accept Bitcoin payments for the product his e-commerce company was selling at the time.
“And he quietly donated millions into the ‘open source’ community to help blockchain technology grow to what it is today.”
OK, so we don’t get a lot of other detail… but feed that to the Thinkolator, and it doesn’t take much chugging and chewing until we get a very high-probability answer: This is almost certainly a veiled recommendation to buy Overstock (OSTK).
The “technology supergenius” and the guy who was named Entrepreneur of the Year and accepted Bitcoin early and funded the open source community and hates Wall Street is Patrick Byrne, the firebrand CEO of Overstock.com (and son of the late (and legendary) John Byrne, of GEICO and White Mountains Insurance fame — both Byrnes worked for Warren Buffett). He’s a fascinating guy, despite the fact that Overstock has often been a disappointing retailer compared to its public peers (like, say, Amazon), well worth reading up on him if you’re interested.
Byrne’s last fight, against naked short selling a decade ago, no doubt informs his current interest in cryptocurrencies and blockchain — Overstock, through its Medici subsidiary, has invested heavily in blockchain technologies in several areas, including voting and real estate and identity, but the big push right now is for their largest blockchain investment, tzero, which they describe as “blockchain meets capital markets.”
Overstock (and Medici, their blockchain subsidiary) are not Wyoming companies, they’re headquartered in Utah… but Wyoming is certainly trying to lead the way in blockchain and has made a big effort to set up a legal structure that incentivizes blockchain companies and cryptocurrencies to work in Wyoming, so perhaps some of Overstock’s investments are in that state. I didn’t dig that deep on that point.
And yes, per the teased deadline, May 14 is currently the expected close of the offering for tzero tokens… though the process has been delayed and disputed over the past six months as Overstock and tzero try to work with regulators.
You can see a pretty good explanation of the tzero blockchain in Overstock’s latest quarterly presentation here, and certainly tzero and Overstock have been well-covered in the press for this large ICO offering and the ambitious plans Byrne likes to talk about — there was an interview in American Banker back in January, and the tzero token sale/ICO was delayed for a while (and investigated by the SEC, which helped bring down OSTK’s share price last month).
It wasn’t just the SEC investigation that helped take some of the wind out of Overstock’s sails, though, nor was it just the falling prices of most cryptocurrencies over the past month or two, as the bloom came off the bitcoin rose. It was the fact that Overstock is still, primarily, a discount online retailer… and it’s facing huge competition, which depressed results in the holiday quarter.
That competition appears to be particularly galling for Byrne when it comes from Wayfair (W), the well-financed competitor in the key “online furniture sales” space, because Overstock, despite it’s lack of compelling financials, is a much less profligate company — they spend a lot less than Wayfair, and they have tried, so they say, to be rational in their spending and to focus on profitability, so part of the fourth quarter earnings report was basically the assertion that “we’re going to go nuts aiming for revenue growth like Wayfair and Amazon, because that’s what investors want.”
Actually, here’s the commentary in Patrick Byrne’s own words, from the earnings press release…
“Our ecommerce business had its second annual pre-tax loss ($25 million) in nine years faced with a competitor called Wayfair running a pre-tax loss of $244 million for 2017. In fact, in the last four years, while our retail business has had pre-tax income of $30 million, Wayfair has lost $663 million: this is creating no small amount of margin compression. Because I do not want to watch this play out over years, I believe it is time for us to respond in kind. Thus, I am announcing that we are for the first time adopting the classic internet ‘growth strategy’ I have previously eschewed: high growth, negative GAAP net income, funded out of our negative cash conversion cycle. We have already turned on the jets, and will demonstrate this year that our growth engine is far more efficient.”
So that scared investors a bit, combined with the clear evidence that Overstock has been struggling to get web traffic in the face of this Wayfair competition, though they do note that they’ve seen good new customer growth to start 2018. And since it was the tzero offering and the blockchain investments that had investors excited and driving the shares up from $20 to $80 or so over the second half of 2017, it shouldn’t be terribly surprising that the delays in that tzero ICO and the weakness (and heavy future spending) in the core business, combined with the fact that they announced a new stock offering (and then canceled it after the stock started falling more sharply), all worked together for a really dramatic drop back down to the mid-$30s.
I don’t know what the future holds for tzero or the other Medici investments in blockchain that Overstock is making — I find Patrick Byrne fascinating, and I like his enthusiasm (though certainly wouldn’t endorse all the claims he makes), but he often seems too tempestuous to be running a public company.
But what it really comes down to is that the core Overstock online retail business does not interest me very much, even though I owned the stock for a while back in the mid-2000s and think they’ve done well to survive to this point (and have even bought a few things through them over the years). I don’t like Wayfair as an investment, either, and I suppose Overstock’s retail business has some appeal when compared with Wayfair… but the notion of both of them throwing money into a dumpster fire while Amazon sits back and thinks about taking over the furniture segment doesn’t strike me as very appealing.
So for me, this investment would be something like a venture capital investment in blockchain — and instead of paying someone a huge premium to manage your money, the entree to the venture capital fund is that you also have to buy a chunk of an ecommerce company, whether you want it or not. I suspect they’ll probably end up splitting the company and spinning off either Overstock or Medici at some point, particularly if the tzero offering ends well and they make some progress in actually building a viable exchange for cryptocurrencies and, later, for publicly traded stocks, but I’m not in a hurry to get involved today. And I don’t know the status of the SEC investigation, though tzero’s token offering seems quite reasonable and well-regulated compared to most of the ICOs I’ve seen.
I’m sure there are plenty of folks who like Overstock (including Tom Forte, the lone Wall Street analyst who covers the stock and who talked it up a lot a few months ago, and recently reiterated his $100 target), but I’ll bet most of that enthusiasm is pretty recent, and is based on hopes about the blockchain stuff, which means it’s subject to the fluctuating winds of blockchain sentiment. The most bullish person I’ve noticed on Overstock has been Mark Cohodes, the famed short seller who was a Patrick Byrne target back in those naked shorting days of 2005 or 2006 — he talked up Overstock at the Grant’s Interest Rate Observer conference last Fall, which got a lot of media attention (and some raised eyebrows). That was before the crypto-fueled spike and collapse, though as of a few days Cohodes still says he owns and likes it.
I’ll watch from the sidelines for now, thanks… but it’s your money, what do you think? Will tzero soon have an exchange that makes a difference? Is Patrick Byrne tilting at windmills, or will he build something important on the blockchain? Is the retail business worth the big investment push they’re apparently going to make? Let us know with a comment below.