It's been a volatile year for Overstock (NASDAQ:OSTK) investors. On a one-year basis, shares are up a torrid 140%, trouncing the S&P 500, which has increased less than 15% over the last 12 months. However, 2018 has seen Overstock tumble from the huge gains booked in 2017, and shares now sit 41% lower than at the start of the year, as poor earnings have weighed on the stock.
Overstock's run-up was notable because it wasn't driven by an increase in the company's core business, but by the organization's forays into cryptocurrencies, including its tZero ICO (initial coin offering). The combination of falling token prices and an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into the tZero offering has tempered interest in the stock.
With a new announcement, it appears CEO Patrick Byrne has another market to enter, albeit a more tangible one than cryptocurrencies. Is Overstock moving on from crypto?
Can't get any more real than real estate
In a departure from crypto, Overstock's newest venture is real estate. In February the company purchased Houserie, a site focusing on property management, and Overstock recently announced an official relaunch of the platform. While the domain and service names currently remain, Overstock notes the end goal is to create a comprehensive property management site called "O Real Estate."
Senior vice president of strategy Seth Moore clarified that at this point Overstock's plans are not to own properties, but to leverage its technology to better connect landlords and tenants. While the devil is in the details, the purchase is not likely to significantly add to or detract from the company's financials in the short term.
What about the core business?
You really can't blame Overstock for its moves into seemingly nonadjacent businesses like property management: Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN) is often lauded for doing the same. In fact, Amazon Web Services' (AWS) cloud-storage division provides the bulk of that company's operating income and bottom-line results. But Amazon's business model hasn't escaped criticism. Former Walmart CEO Bill Simon has accused the company of anti-competitive practices, by using AWS profit to essentially subsidize low-margin retail operations.
Overstock could use an adjacent business with a higher operating income margin. In each of the last three years, the company has reported negative operating income as operating expenses have advanced more than gross profit: Upstart Wayfair has significantly expanded and stolen market share, also while posting operating losses.
Overstock is still vested in crypto
Investors owning Overstock for its crypto business should note that the company isn't abandoning Medici Ventures, its blockchain-driven venture capital operation. In fact, during last quarter's earnings conference call, Overstock opened the discussion by detailing its cryptocurrency operations, going on to discuss tZero and Medici at more length than its core retail business.
While Byrne's blockchain-centric plans appear to have tempered somewhat since December, when he openly speculated about selling the retail operations to go full crypto and blockchain, they are still important to the company's future. Last quarter the company reported a pre-tax loss of $54.7 million, with $21.2 million of that assigned to Medici Ventures.
This figure represented a 165% increase from the prior year, denoting significant spending in blockchain. It's apparent that Byrne doesn't view the Houserie purchase as a transition away from crypto, but rather as a new business to supplement the company's challenged e-commerce operations.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Jamal Carnette, CFA owns shares of Amazon. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon and Wayfair. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.