Quick Take: In Defense of Truth on Overstock

Overstock.com (Nasdaq: OSTK  ) CEO Patrick Byrne has made a lot of hay about so-called corrupt analysts and their alleged ties to journalists. So I find it interesting that he hasn't piped up to denounce the latest fish story about Overstock, this one appearing on TheStreet.com.

It regards a fund that has "bet big" on Overstock, one run by money manager Arne Alsin. Alsin, you will recall, has in the past written some amusing Overstock puff pieces, like this one, containing predictions that, in hindsight, are shown to have been utterly wrong. Or this one, which is yet more disturbing, because it was published the day after Byrne promised investors a "big story breaking next 24 hours" on our boards.

This time around, it's co-manager Glenn Surowiec's turn to polish the big O. The article says, "If the company returns to 'normalized profitability,' which Surowiec pegs at around 4% operating margins, that should turn out to be cheap."

Operating margins of 4%? Amazon.com's (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) operating margins are 3.6% and falling. Since 2001, Overstock's best performance in annual operating margins is -1%. That's negative 1%, folks.

Those are, of course, exactly the kind of crummy margins you'd expect in a business that is essentially moatless. But does the Alsin-Overstock fluff machine bother to explain why it expects the big O's margins to do better than the prime name in the space? Nope. And I suspect there's a good reason: It's a made-up number.

Anyone out there think Byrne will bother to correct the record on this fuzzy math? Let's not hold our breath.

Amazon.com is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick.

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At the time of publication, Seth Jayson had no positions in any company mentioned here. Those who want to dispute his opinion on stocks should direct themselves to Motley Fool CAPS, where we can keep score. (Seth's currently third out of 27,000.) See his latest blog commentary here. View his stock holdings and Fool profile here. Fool rules are here.


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