shares tanked Wednesday, which was tough for company spokesman and shareholder
. But the news is not too bad for fund investors, because relatively few managers have a big bet on the stock.
On Wednesday, the online retailer, best-known for Shatner's kitschy commercials and auctioning of airline tickets and hotel rooms, warned that its third-quarter revenue would
fall short of expectations. The news sent priceline.com's shares, already off 60.7% since Jan. 1, down another 42% in midday trading Wednesday. (Shatner bargained for shares of the firm when he signed on as spokesman so he's probably not thrilled with today's action.)
Of the some 2,800 U.S. stock funds out there, just 70 owned priceline.com at the end of August, according to
data. That includes many large and popular funds such as
Janus Twenty and
Putnam New Opportunities, but the stock represented less than 0.5% of each fund's assets according to their most recent portfolio reports.
It's difficult to tell which funds have the biggest exposure to the sagging company because many funds' portfolio information is dated. Screening out all funds with portfolio reports older than June 30, a trio of Net funds have the biggest bets on the stock.
Until this announcement, the unprofitable company had impressed some analysts with its revenue, but one observer says today's selling might be justified.
"The market's reaction has been pretty severe, but I think the reason for that is the doubt this casts on the company's business model. I've been skeptical about that for a long time because I think it's inherently limited," says David Kathman, a stock analyst covering e-commerce companies at
The company essentially allows consumers to bid for perishable items like airline tickets and hotel rooms on its Web site. The idea: If the airline or hotel accepts your bid, you can get a bargain. The firm has expanded its scope, moving to allow consumers to bid for gasoline, groceries and long-distance phone service, among other things.
But Kathman wonders if there's a limited number of people willing to lock themselves into off-peak flights and binding agreements. Once a customer bids, he or she is often locked into that price and can't easily adjust their reservation or order. He doesn't write off priceline.com, but says the company has to improve its customer service to keep growing.
"As they've been getting more and more customers, there's been confusion on how this thing works. There have been customer complaints and priceline.com's response has been, 'Most of these people don't understand what they're getting into,' and that's not a good thing. priceline hasn't done a very good job of making it seem like they care about the customer. They emphasize low, low prices and that's it," he says.
This low-cost emphasis was part of the company's problem this quarter as bidders low-balled airlines, only to find their bids rejected as skyrocketing oil prices raised airline ticket prices.
While there aren't many professional stock-pickers who've scoffed up shares, at least one shop was bullish recently. Fund managers at top-selling growth shop
bought a slew of priceline.com shares in the second quarter and own more shares than any other fund company, according to
, a Web site that tracks institutional ownership. At the end of April
Janus Olympus had a little more than 1% of its assets invested in priceline.com, according to the fund's most recent shareholder report.
That said, the stock wasn't among Janus managers' 100 collective favorites on June 30, according to bigdough.com. And managers at
reduced their priceline.com stake in the second quarter.
Only time will tell if priceline.com can get back on track and effectively expand beyond peddling empty plane seats and hotel rooms. Until they do, fund investors can rest assured that they're probably not along for the company's bumpy ride.