Internet closeout retailer Overstock.com
In 2004, revenues more than doubled and gross profit jumped 158%. In the classic saga of Internet giants needing to get to critical mass, Overstock is clawing itself to profitability while in self-described "start-up mode."
Here's the latest quarter dissected piece by piece (comparing this quarter to its comparable year-ago quarter):
Revenue: Up 102% compared with the same period last year. The triple-digit gains are still there! Customers are finding Overstock.com just fine.
Operating loss: The net loss was 91% larger than the year-ago quarter, and it missed analyst estimates by a whole nine cents. That loss is a Lilliputian $4.2 million when compared with the massive cash and marketable securities balance of $192.8 million (although losses are never a shareholder's best friend).
While the gross profit grew a robust 194% compared to the year-ago period (that's good!), the CEO said (in the first paragraph of the press release!): "I overspent in marketing by 1-2% of sales, but I believe we can cut this back and still grow." Besides knowing where the buck stops at Overstock.com, make the computation the CEO didn't. 1%-2% of sales is $1.6 million-$3.2 million -- which would have narrowed the magnitude of the loss.
Gross margin: At 15%, up from 10.3% in the comparable quarter a year ago, the company is hitting the goal it set for itself and sees the potential for higher margins in the future.
The press release: Read it! As always, it reflects a candor that is rare. Maybe it is the tutoring the CEO got from Berkshire Hathaway
The outlook: Ah, the important stuff. Analysts expect the company to earn $0.22 this year and $0.88 a share in 2006. How's that for rapid profit growth? These numbers are, of course, contingent upon the company's marketing efforts generating a strong customer base. But the company did say that April sales got off to a sluggish start -- and that probably accounts for the stock's plunge as trading started this morning.
The company sees some margin improvements without considering the significant impact higher-margin business such as auctions and travel will have if they take off. Note, too, that these higher-margin businesses are drags on earnings today as the company makes the investment for its future -- and this includes a gigantic information technology changeover that is taking place.
Respect this: Overstock.com is at the brink of profitability and has a number of growth engines in the works. We'll look at a down and dirty enterprise value-to-sales metric -- Amazon's
Its stock is up 8.4% over the past 52 weeks (which is hard to imagine given its growth and its business investments), and it is 53% below its 52-week high. Although the forward 2006 price-to-earnings tips the scale at a heady 40, this Rule Breaker has the growth, earnings potential, and management (yes!) to, in my opinion, warrant this premium.
Fool contributor W.D. Crotty is an application software consultant that appreciates the complexity of the technology Overstock has to deploy. W.D. owns stock in Berkshire Hathaway. Click here to see The Motley Fool's disclosure policy.