SEC Probe Halts Mamma's March

Whoa, Mamma.com (MAMA)!

The tiny search-engine company said Tuesday that the Securities and Exchange Commission has begun an informal inquiry relating to recent trading in the company's stock.

Can't say that we're shocked.

Starting with a 149% gain on March 2, shares in Mamma.com have zoomed on extraordinarily heavy trading in recent weeks. Shares closed Monday night at $15.66, up from a $4.05 close March 1. As many has 68 million shares in the company have changed hands on a single day since early March, up from the 120,000 average daily volume in the stock before the frenzy began.

Mamma.com's sudden popularity makes it one of several small-cap stocks that have zoomed skyward on the thinnest of pretexts this year, prompting Cassandras to see omens of a market bubble.

The company's run-up began after its March 1 announcement of strong results for the fourth quarter of 2003, helped by such factors as rising revenue, recognition of a recovery of future income taxes, and the sale of a money-losing operation.

The stock also got a boost when Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban -- who made a fortune selling the dot-com Broadcast.com to Yahoo! (YHOO) -- disclosed he owned 6.3% of Mamma.com's shares.

David Goldman, executive chairman of Mamma.com, said in a statement that the company isn't aware of any nonpublic information that might bear upon the stock's activity. He says the company has and will fully cooperate with the SEC negotiation. "The SEC notification advises," says Mamma.com, "that the existence of the inquiry should not be construed as an indication by the SEC that any violation of law has occurred, nor should it reflect adversely on the character or reliability of any person or entity or on the merits of the Company's securities."

Shares in Mamma.com fell 99 cents Tuesday to trade at $14.67.

Though the company bills its search engine as "The Mother of All Search Engines," Mamma.com -- which also sells keyword-linked search advertising -- doesn't quite match up to the image of a search engine that towers over, say, Yahoo!, which had sales of $1.62 billion last year.

Mamma.com's 2003 revenue more than doubled to $8.9 million; its fourth-quarter earnings per share from continuing operations amounted to 9 cents, giving it an annualized price/earnings ratio of 40.


March Madness
Mamma's sudden surge


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