The Buzzards at WorldSpace

The Fool legal team doesn't like it when I refer to plaintiffs' lawyers as "[insert well-known carrion bird here]," so I figured I'd see if I could slip "buzzards" by.

What else can you call the gaggle of latecomers launching class action suits alleging that "...material omissions and dissemination of materially false and misleading statements concerning WorldSpace's (Nasdaq: WRSP  ) operations and financial performance caused the Company's stock price to become artificially inflated"? If there's any truth to the more specific subscriber-count padding alleged here, maybe WorldSpace deserves a slap on the wrist. But as for that data fooling the market, who are they kidding?

Even if management did make false or misleading statements, there's no way any informed investor could possibly have been fooled about WorldSpace. I've been telling people for months to stay away from this company, one of the most rancid stocks I've ever seen. (See here, here, here, and, oh, here.) The problem at WorldSpace wasn't a lack of disclosure. The problem at WorldSpace was that there were still suckers out there willing to buy it, despite the copious evidence that the company's shares deserved to be priced for much less. Zero, I would say, is what they're worth to outside shareholders.

WorldSpace's recent earnings release only confirms what I've said all along. Q4 subscriber revenue was a miserable $2 million. (I can find dental clinics that do better.) Full-year consolidated revenues were $15.6 million, with less than half of that from subscribers. Net loss for the year hit $128.6 million, against last year's bleed of $79.9 million.

Clearly, costs are still out of control, and given the need for local-language programming, the prospects for scale are rather slim. Furthermore, the growth potential of the company's third-world subscriber base is an illusion. That's why I've always said WorldSpace is worse than XM Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: XMSR  ) and Sirius Satellite Radio (Nasdaq: SIRI  ) , and I don't consider either of them a decent business.

So, though I don't even play a lawyer on TV, I don't see anything illegal in what WorldSpace is doing -- or at least, nothing for which lawyers (or their clients) should be paid for bringing to court. Unethical, maybe, such as including this note at the bottom of every press release: "Based in the Washington, DC metropolitan area, WorldSpace, Inc. is the world's only global media and entertainment company positioned to offer a satellite radio experience to consumers in more than 130 countries with five billion people, driving 300 million cars."

That's blatantly misleading; as I've mentioned before, WorldSpace doesn't yet offer a car radio product, and it would need substantial capital buildout to achieve one. But then, WorldSpace doesn't claim to offer a product to all those drivers; it simply says it's "positioned to offer" it. Surely, that's not illegal. Sleazy, yes, but not illegal.

So hey, if there are people out there who would rather believe the stories than read the fine print, that's their problem. Fools, ignore the lawyers and look at the numbers. This one's a complete pig, no matter how much makeup the firm's management plasters on its snout.

Comments? Bring them here.

At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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