Nature happens, Fools. Sometimes we're the lucky ones who have a great view, perched atop a wooden pier with denim rolled up to our knees -- skimming our bare feet over the water. The tide will run its course as the moon takes a Slurpee straw to our hectic orb. We watch. We absorb. We learn perchance to teach.
But lately, for eBay surf watchers, those waves have been crashing in pretty fast and furious. Back in April, shares of the world's most popular auctionhaus were the darlings of the block -- bid up to $234 a pop. Four months later the stock was just a few downticks from $70. Here we are today, at $144 3/4, wedged snuggly between both extremes. I imagine any eBay follower who isn't donning Foolish colors is probably a bit seasick from the whole experience by now.
So let's whip out some Dramamine for the investing soul. Let's lay anchor and admit that the market doesn't know squat about how to work a sail. It has tossed eBay about with no real regard to the fundamentals. Back in March, Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN) announced that it was getting into the auction game. Scary stuff? The media thought so. A month later eBay hit an all-time high. Last month, when Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO), Exicte@Home (Nasdaq: ATHM), Dell (Nasdaq: DELL), Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), and others decided to share auction information -- in essence gang-tackling eBay -- what happened? Bears snickered at the time. Yet, over the last two months, shares of eBay have doubled.
With every new entrant, with every operational meltdown (and the site did melt down twice over the summer), the pundits took to the airwaves. "It's over!" they shouted, shaking their fingers, the same ones that have been wagging since eBay was just a $2 billion company last year. "I told you so!" they boasted.
Told me what? That five steps forward and two steps back is a debacle? Otis nailed it when he sang, "I can't do what ten people want me to do."
If you have time tonight, you should try and print out eBay stock price graphs for a dozen different time intervals. The company has been trading publicly for barely a year so you don't have much to choose from. Your choice, I'm not particular. Let me know when you're done.
Done? Good. OK, gather them all, along with some matches and lighter fluid, and head out to the nearest beachside picnic grounds. Combine the ingredients for a bonfire recipe. As the flames die out, and make sure they do extinguish themselves properly, kick off your shoes and walk along the shoreline. Watch. Absorb. Learn. Perchance teach?
It's been a rocky six months for eBay the stock, but what about the company? When Amazon wanted in on the bidding fun back in the spring, eBay was generating an impressive 600 million page views a month. Yahoo! was already carving itself a piece of the pie at the time. Since then, it's been a deluge of new peers. Granted, most of them have been business-to-consumer showcases, not the consumer-to-consumer virtual garage sales that have made eBay so popular.
Still, in just half a year, the niche has become crowded, eBay has had to deal with outages due to a terrible transition into a new interface, and the stock is 38% off its highs. How badly must the business have deteriorated in that time? How deeply must the user defections have run?
The answer is a click away. Head out to eBay.com and you'll see that monthly page views have now grown to a whopping 1.5 billion. Right now there are 3 million items on the block. Even an imperfect eBay is a pretty darn good grower.
So sit at the dock and watch the media, mavens, and stock itself run high and low like the tide. Try to look past the fact that we lost Otis in a plane crash four days after he recorded that great soul classic. We must keep chugging along for the long term.
Investing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. So, on your mark. Get Redding. Get set. Go!
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