If the Internet is really starting to put the squeeze on traditional businesses, the question every investor oughta be asking is which companies have the most to lose. It's still too soon to say, but short-sellers already are starting to put together lists, and high on the list of some is
. A good deal of the Texas company's biz comes from acting as the middleman between software publishers and large corporations. More than half its sales involve software titles published by
, a spunky upstart long-distance carrier. Last week it linked up with Microsoft in a $200 million deal that ultimately will allow companies to directly download software and upgrades, via the Internet, to their corporate networks. "It reminds me of when there were rack jobbers that distributed CDs to companies like
," says Marc Cohodes of
, who is short Software Spectrum. "People said, 'We can do this ourselves.'" As a result, times have been tough in recent years for rack jobbers.
Cohodes, no stranger to this column, expects the same to happen to software middlemen like Software Spectrum, especially as companies try to cut costs.
A Software Spectrum spokeswoman says her company isn't worried. "This business has always been competitive ... so our management is used to facing challenges," she says. She adds that many of her company's customers are so large that it would be "real difficult" for them to handle software requirements "on their own through the Internet."
She adds that comparing software distributors to rack jobbers is like comparing apples to oranges because "software is a lot more complicated than records."
Maybe so, but the company itself names the Internet as a risk and warns that the loss of rebates and other incentives from publishers could have the ole "material adverse effect" on its biz and financial results.
It may not happen immediately, but with Qwest's line into Microsoft, the change in software distribution is clearly underway, and as it evolves, it's hard to see how companies like Software Spectrum won't feel the pain. "The whole concept of the Internet is to take away the distribution channel," Cohodes says.
Just ask any PC distributor.
There's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear:
. It spins off nearly 20% of
, with the promise that it'll spin off the rest (7.3 million shares) six months after the IPO. In theory, then, the two stocks should trade at some sort of spread that doesn't change until the next spinoff occurs. Or so says one of this column's savviest number-crunching sources.
According to this source, Creative should be valued, in the very least, at something like 80% of uBbid's market cap divided by Creative's shares outstanding (or about $58) plus $5 for Creative's ongoing biz -- right around the 52-week low for Creative. "Under any circumstance, on any given day, you should be able to get out a calculator and say that if uBid is at 'X' dollars, this is where Creative ought to trade," he says. "Creative's investors own those securities. They're tradable, liquid assets."
But you wouldn't know it from the way the two stocks traded yesterday, with uBid rising 31, or 58%, to 84 1/8, while Creative jumped a mere 6 1/2, or 22%, to 35 3/8. "Creative owns 7 million uBid shares that are worth $588 million. These are shares they'll give to everyone, but the market only wants to pay around $310 million for them," based on yesterday's closing price.
Why? Our source doesn't have a clue. His only explanation: "It's the insanity of this market. Guys are moving one piece of paper, and not the other. It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen."
American Express again:
and why he
mentioned the company reported a 35% reduction in
for credit card losses; that should've been a reduction in
for those losses. (Reserves and provisions are pretty much the same thing, but provisions are on the income statement and reserves are on the balance sheet.)
The column also said that Olstein had learned of the size of the provisions in American Express' 10-Q, not its press release. However, as it turns out, he saw it in an expanded version of the press release that was available, at the time, to investors.
Finally, reader Matt Brody writes:
"It seems that Bob Olstein is so careful not to talk to analysts, companies, management, but why is he talking to you?"
Because (and lucky for him) he's not seeking my advice.
Herb Greenberg writes daily for
. In keeping with the editorial policy of
, he does not own or short individual stocks. He also does not invest in hedge funds or any other private investment partnerships. He welcomes your feedback at
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