Market darlings can fade awfully fast these days. Just look at ValueClick
It's just the latest step down for a company that once seemed likely to be the next dot-com highflier, a prime target for major portals hungering for a thicker slice of the online-advertising pie. Since peaking two months ago, ValueClick shares have tumbled 43%.
Critics may argue that ValueClick is getting what it deserves. Its promotions-based business -- tricking gullible Web users into jumping through way too many hoops to win elusive "free" iPods, Xbox systems, and restaurant gift cards -- got slammed with an FTC inquiry back in May.
That's not ValueClick's only trick, though. Between its flagship ad-serving business and its Commission Junction affiliate network, the company is still a major player in interactive marketing. Its rivals include DoubleClick and smaller companies such as Aptimus
The company commands nearly $4 a share in cash on its debt-free balance sheet. Wipe that out, and we've got a company whose enterprise value has surrendered more than half its value since peaking in May. That's a far more savage blow than even its 43% share-price whack.
ValueClick's fresh bottom-line guidance calls for it to earn between $0.74 a share and $0.76 a share this year. The stock may not seem cheap at 28 times this year's profitability, but it's still a bargain compared to the multiples that companies like DoubleClick and aQuantive
As lucrative as promotions-based marketing has been for ValueClick's WebClients subsidiary, I'd honestly love to see the company cash out of the controversial market. Running sites with names like PinkPhone4Free.com and freelawntractor.com aren't helping, especially as online advertising leaders have suitors lining up to buy them out.
Clean hands can go a long way here. As quickly as market darlings fade, redemption can march back even quicker.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz has never found a pink phone alluring, but don't get him started on lawn tractors. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool's disclosure policy has no strings attached.