OK, OK, I know what I'm about to describe is about a month old. It's just that I just so rarely even give a rip about analyst upgrades and downgrades that I don't even pay attention to such things. But I thought this was a both interesting and illustrative example of the natural gamesmanship that analysts can play. I'm not alleging wrongdoing, mind you; I just think it's interesting.

After the close of business on Jan. 27, Overstock.com (NASDAQ:OSTK) released its quarterly results, and almost immediately the stock tanked in the aftermarket. It closed that day at $65.94 and opened the next morning at $57.73, a loss of more than 12% between the close and the next morning's open.

Overnight that night analysts at Piper Jaffray (NYSE:PJC) downgraded the stock from "outperform" to "market perform," placing a new target on Overstock of $54, reduced from $60.

The next time that investors would have had to react to Piper Jaffray's change in coverage was the next morning, when the stock was trading at $57 and change. But the analyst got to list on the report the last price Overstock traded at during normal market hours, which was nearly $66. Never mind that no one, anywhere in the world, had the ability to trade Overstock at anywhere near that price by the time that the Piper Jaffray research went live.

As I said at the outset, I rarely, if ever, pay the first bit of attention to analyst ratings. But isn't it just great that the analyst can show a nearly fantastic track record by printing a price that was available nowhere by the time the research was released? If this were a mutual fund, this would be called "late trading." Oh, but how many investors wish they could sell or buy "as of a few hours ago" at some point in their careers?

Bill Mann owns no shares of any company in this story. Further, he predicts that the University of North Carolina will win last night's game by 10. The Motley Fool is investors writing for other investors.