When I was a kid, I was fascinated with framed currency. Whether it was dollar bills or silver dollars, I always wondered how cool it would be to come across one of these frames selling for less than the value of the money under the glass. But how angry would I get if I ever did stumble across such a deal only to find that I wasn't able to crack open the frame?
You see that in the market from time to time as forgotten companies fetch less than their net net working capital. They aren't usually trading that low by accident. Something major is usually keeping the company unloved as shareholders take frustrating whacks at the shatterproof glass that conceals the greenery.
Back in March, I wrote about one such company in my 5 Dot-Com Bargains. InsWeb
You may wonder how someone can walk away from a situation like this. Is the cash pinata truly impenetrable? Do sleepless nights follow when you leave a company feeling that so much more could have been done to unlock the tangible value?
InsWeb's problem is that its business model is a dud. Angling for insurance leads online? There's a reason why insurance companies have a fleet of localized representatives. Insurance -- particularly life insurance -- is something that begs to be sold in person. Even in other areas, whether the perception is flawed or not, when folks are buying policies under the notion that the insurers will assess the damage and cut you a check when things go wrong, it seems instinctive to secure it locally rather than ferret out a deal online.
InsWeb has tried. It has shifted its emphasis on auto insurance policies. Still, the losses keep mounting, and revenues are falling. What's worse -- for those looking at the company's legal tender as a flotation device -- is that the cash per share has now shrunk to $4.73 a share.
Perhaps that's why InsWeb will probably never be worthy of being named alongside the ranks of Internet leaders. The ceremonial currency under the glass is always a bonus, but ultimately you are really just paying up for the prettiness and sturdiness of the frame itself.
Do you find companies that are trading near their net net working capital attractive or troublesome? If they are able to retain their liquidity levels, is there really limited downside? All this and more -- in the Green Gene Stocks discussion board. Only on Fool.com.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has bought plenty of things and services online, but never insurance. He owns no shares in InsWeb.