Absolutely stunned. That was my reaction to Internet telephony provider Vonage (NYSE: VG ) admitting in its recent 10-K filing that it could be forced into bankruptcy at the behest of legal attacks from the likes of rival Verizon Communications (NYSE: VZ ) . Who would have thought it could end like this?
Well, OK, I am being facetious. My guess is that even the greenest of oddsmakers in Las Vegas would have given the cash-burning company with no moat at least a fair likelihood of bankruptcy. So it shouldn't be all that surprising to shareholders that Vonage may go the way of classic money pits like Pets.com, Webvan, and eToys.
In an effort to "protect and inform," all public companies go to great lengths to spell out risks to shareholders in their SEC filings. Vonage gave investors a full 12 pages' worth of pessimism. In addition to mentioning bankruptcy, there were many other interesting tidbits, including being forced to cough up $253.6 million of principal and interest due on its debt.
Of all the risks Vonage cited in the filing, the most telling was that founder Jeffrey A. Citron "exerts significant influence over us." The description of Citron holding 34% of company shares and wielding ultimate control of business matters sounds more like a coded plea from a company held hostage than a united team of happy employees. The best part, though, is in the final statement: "Mr. Citron's interests may not always coincide with the interests of other holders of our common stock."
With a temporary stay of Verizon's suit, the lights are still on at Vonage, and customers are still yapping away at a discount to what they used to pay to traditional telcos like AT&T (NYSE: T ) and Qwest (NYSE: Q ) . Tremendous uncertainty still hangs over the carrier, though, with multiple lawsuits pending, including one with Sprint Nextel (NYSE: S ) scheduled for trial in September.
There's even talk that a deep-pocketed telco -- possibly Deutsche Telekom (NYSE: DT ) or Sprint Nextel -- will buy Vonage and assume its customers along with all the ills. Whatever the path Vonage takes, it doesn't look good for shareholders.
Dial up related Foolishness:
Think you could pitch your favorite stock -- or ditch your least favorite -- in 27 seconds or fewer? That's what we're doing over at Motley Fool CAPS. Check out our new stock videos.
Fool contributor Dave Mock comes with his own set of risks and uncertainties, including a penchant for ignoring user manuals when handling high-voltage equipment. He owns no shares of companies mentioned here. Dave is the author ofThe Qualcomm Equation. The Fool has a disclosure policy.