Everything you need to know about the market's opinion of Gateway(NYSE: GTW) can be gleaned off its balance sheet.

The company has $1.1 billion in cash and marketable securities. Its debt-free market cap is just shy of $800 million. In other words, Wall Street thinks Gateway is worth less alive than dead and liquidated.

So, the fact that the troubled computer maker is going through its third restructuring in as many years may not be a bad thing. Sooner or later, it might get it right and be worth more than the sum of its liquid parts.

For now, the direct seller that once brought a little style and marketing levity to PCs with cow-patched boxes is still grasping for a place in the desktop space. It will close more stores and lay off 17% of its workforce. Overhead cuts are expected to save the company $400 million a year.

The company's biggest claim is that even after the costly makeover and wider losses, it will sport more than a billion in greenbacks by the end of the year. In short, you could still buy Gateway for less than its likely net cash hoard by the time it's ready for a fourth restructuring.

Can it be trusted on its pledge to sustain such a lofty mattress of money? It has come through in the past. Gateway made the same vow last year when it had $1.2 billion in the bank. While it closed out fiscal 2002 with a doozy of a fourth quarter, its balance sheet relinquished just $100 million for the year. 2003 is off to a bad start, but the company knows it.

Right now, Gateway's still looking for its niche. Dell's(Nasdaq: DELL) operating efficiency and market-share snagging justify its place as the market darling. Apple(Nasdaq: AAPL) isn't trading for much more than its liquid green, but it has carved a small yet loyal following. Hewlett-Packard(NYSE: HPQ) buttered its strength in imaging products by gobbling up Compaq to become the top dog.

Where does that leave Gateway? Luckily, its got pockets deep enough to see it through a few more restructurings, if need be. But maybe the third time's the charm.

Taking a page from the Amazon(Nasdaq: AMZN) playbook, Gateway has adopted a "shipping always included" angle -- that's attractive when you figure Dell's shipping rates start at $99. The margin-conscious will be quick to note that Gateway has to swallow the meaty delivery costs, resulting in price increases on its products. Gone are the $400 computers. In their place, a growing line of multimedia products and a new emphasis on the business market.

Obviously, it thinks its new plan will work. It believed the same about its two earlier models. But if the company satisfies its promise to close out the year with positive operating cash flow on a 10-figure balance sheet, it will find its place in the PC and investing markets.

Gateway could be the industry player that gave up the store, traded its cow for some magic beans, and became a credible player, subsidizing the shipping of heavy boxes by selling at retail prices.