Just Say "Nyet"

Let's not belabor the point, OK? No one should be shocked that GlobeTel (AMEX: GTE  ) finally announced the end of its much-discussed, supposedly $600 million Wi-Max deal with a group of Russians.

Investors who like a slick story but aren't as big on reading the details ought to learn a lesson as well. Toward that painful but noble goal, let's review, shall we?

Until late 2005, tiny GlobeTel was best known for its audacious claims about Internet blimps (which have yet to fly). At the end of December, GlobeTel said it had made a deal in Russia that would have vaulted it to the top tier of phone, Internet, and networking providers, joining the likes of Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) , Motorola (NYSE: MOT  ) , Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) , Avaya (NYSE: AV  ) , Vimpelcom (NYSE: VIP  ) , and Mobile Telesys (NYSE: MBT  ) .

I was pretty skeptical, because, well ... when a company claims to have a single deal that's four times its market cap, that doesn't sound right. I took the time to do some digging, and it didn't take long to discover that big promises with little payoffs are quite common with GlobeTel, along with even stranger stories. Unfortunately, the mainstream biz press saw fit to engage in what typically passes for journalism: Parrot the press releases, make a few calls, quote a few talking heads.

Read all those filings? Run biographical searches of board and management on Yahoo! and the SEC website? Bah! All is well, right? Why be a Wilma Worrywart?

Because the writing was on the wall. And investor money was on the line, that's why.

Things started to fall apart months back, with delays. Then a final press release put the issue to rest, for a while. Then came the annual filing that shows just what lousy shape GlobeTel's finances are in, on the heels of a vague threat from GlobeTel's lawyers, which loosely translated to "Hey Fool, stop asking us questions." Meanwhile, it looked to me like far too many insiders were heading for the lifeboats, with a lot of director turnover, and share-sale statements that looked mighty odd for insiders in a company supposedly on the verge of profiting from so many great breakthrough deals.

Today, the final shoe dropped, with GlobeTel releasing a statement declaring a "formal default" by the Russians. It's worth a careful read, because it shows just how thin GlobeTel's previous claims look in comparison to this later version of the story. Take this gem: "Internafta subsequently delivered to GlobeTel terms of a US $300 million Letter-of-Credit on Banco do Brazil letterhead. It was thereafter determined by GlobeTel that the terms were not acceptable to any of GlobeTel's bankers."

It was thereafter determined that the terms were not acceptable? Why not? Are we talking about funny money here? Fake credit? Insufficient funds? What?

Or, more to the point, why release all the sunny PR beforehand if the financing -- as well as the detailed business plan, according to this latest release -- was still up in the air? I'm guessing that's just another one of those questions GlobeTel won't want to answer, but I'm hoping a few shareholders will ask it. (And since GlobeTel won't talk to me, feel free to send me the answer. My email's at the bottom of this article.)

The rest of the release looks like another excuse-o-rama to me, with the typical verbiage aimed at explaining how this certainly isn't GlobeTel's fault -- a bone tossed to the faithful. GlobeTel says it will "open itself up to new negotiations with other significant parties in Russia, including an important entity that has approached GlobeTel, regarding a wireless network installation in Russia."

I don't buy the last bit, but I do think it's possible that GlobeTel was outmaneuvered by the still-mostly-nameless Russian federation. But I won't be crying too many tears for GlobeTel managers and their $12 million worth of compensation last year -- on gross earnings of only $413,729.

The real victims in this ordeal are those unfortunate investors who loaded the boat on GlobeTel and believed in all that copious press back in the beginning of the year. The stock has tanked more than 60% since early January. Anyone who's tempted to get back into this game should take a hard look at the record, and take this advice, which was sent to me by a lawyer on behalf of the good folks at GlobeTel themselves: GOVERN YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.

Seth Jayson knows it takes time, but he really does think investors ought to pay attention to minor details like SEC filings. At the time of publication, he had no positions in any company mentioned here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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