Shares of e-commerce company Overstock (OSTK 6.78%) have acted less like those of a technology company this year, particularly during this last month of tech turmoil. Unfortunately for investors, they've mostly mirrored digital currencies instead, as both the stock and bitcoin -- the largest cryptocurrency -- are down approximately 50% year-to-date.
If you've been following the name you know why Overstock acts like a different asset class: the catalysts that have propelled the stock higher over the last few years have been less related to the company's core e-commerce business and more related to CEO Patrick Byrne's forays into digital currencies.
Even though cybercurrencies have been hemorrhaging value of late, Overstock is still positioning itself for a digital currency future. So much so that the CFO of Overstock.com left his position to join a blockchain firm.
Adios e-commerce; hello blockchain
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported Overstock CFO Robert Hughes is leaving to join DeSoto Inc, a blockchain-technology joint venture. It isn't as if Hughes is going too far, as DeSoto is partially owned by Medici Ventures Inc., a blockchain-based venture capital company. Medici is also a wholly owned subsidiary of ... Overstock.com.
According to the Journal, DeSoto aims to use blockchain technology to create a property-rights system, aimed at people in the developing world, where property rights are often not respected or enforced.
This isn't Medici Ventures' only blockchain-related announcement. After clearing up concerns from the Securities and Exchange Commission, the company was able to launch its initial coin offering (ICO) of tZero, and announced it raised approximately $115 million on the ICO.
Overstock investors should ask Byrne is if he's spreading himself too thin and what business he intends to prioritize. With the CFO jumping ship for the blockchain side, it is my opinion that's where Byrne wants to be as well.
Should Overstock investors be concerned?
If you're a longtime Overstock stockholder, it's imperative you reevaluate your thesis. The pricing action and information flow of the stock increasingly resemble those of a digital currency substitute. Not to mention the CEO is making noises that he would like to sell the e-commerce business he promised shareholders he would run to the best of his ability to spend more time with Medici Ventures and its blockchain start-ups.
With the CFO leaving the core e-commerce business to join the venture capital side, it's increasingly looking like e-commerce is the side business and blockchain is the core business. This move makes it more likely CEO Byrne decides to step aside to focus on Medici Ventures or sells the e-commerce business entirely like he suggested earlier.
If you're a new investor looking to get exposure to the digital currency market in an equity investment and understand the inherent risks of a company changing its business model on the fly, then Overstock possibly makes sense for your portfolio.
Unfortunately, I'm willing to guess there are more investors buying Overstock based on its revenue and profit projections from its e-commerce business than its blockchain VC fund.