You might call them the Dogs of the Dogs. Wall Street has saluted them with a raised hind leg, and they languish in over-the-counter kennels where there are thousands of better managed companies that a thoughtful, intelligent investor would, after careful inspection, prefer to adopt. But maybe you don't always inspect so carefully. And look at them: Those poor, neglected mongrels are hungry for your attention -- or even better, your money. Luckily, there is someone who wants to introduce you to them. Sure, it's an anonymous someone, a person so desperate to hide his identity he's forged the email headers. Maybe it's just a Good Samaritan so humble he wants to perform his virtuous acts in secret? Well, he certainly believes in these dogs. Just listen to this: "Possibly the drug discovery of the decade!" Or this: "Will grow like Wal-Mart and produce even greater shareholder profits!" Sound familiar? Unless you've taken extraordinary measures to keep your email address private, you've received a blizzard of these stock pitches. You'd think a "stock of the decade" would come ... well ... once every 10 years. Yet I've been graciously informed of five of them this week alone. Like me, you probably filter or delete them all. One guy, Joshua Cyr, didn't delete them. He didn't invest in any of them either, but he did add 1,000 shares of each spam-touted stock to a mock portfolio and then monitored them for a few months. Through May and June, Cyr added 37 stocks and decided that was a good-enough sampling, even though the spam kept flooding him with even more once-in-a-lifetime, ground-floor opportunities -- 955 spams at last count, he says. That Cyr's spam portfolio, which he maintains on a Web site he created called SpamStockTracker.com, hasn't done terribly well isn't at all a surprise. What is interesting, however, is just how amazingly bad it's performed.
It would have cost Cyr $17,405 to buy positions in those 37 stocks. As of Wednesday, the portfolio's value was a life-changing $9,574. He'd lost close to half of his mock money in the span of a summer. "I would have thought they might have broken even," says Cyr, who admits he's not a hard-core stock investor. He owns one stock, and most of his recent investments have been in real estate. But Cyr is a Web developer at Portsmouth, N.H.-based Savvy Software, so it took him an hour or two to set up his portfolio and Web site. And his email is openly posted on the Web. "I get a lot of spam, so I figured I'd be a good test case to see what would happen to the average Joe if he followed the advice of these hot stock tips," he says. Nearly two-thirds of the hot stocks -- 24 in total -- have lost more than half of their value since Cyr started tracking them. Only three have appreciated in value. That's an 8% chance of seeing your investment in spam stocks grow. Not even pitchers in the American League have batting averages that low. Six of the touted stocks, however, lost more than 90% of their market value: First Canadian American Holding Corp. ( FCDH), Phoenix Interests ( PHXI), Executive Hospitality ( EHPC), Martin Nutraceuticals ( MTNC), My Pool Leaks ( MPLK) and Nomad International ( NDIN). We've all heard that we should perform due diligence before investing in a stock, and these stocks are an entertaining reminder of why. A cursory glance at their details opens up a field of red flags. Take Phoenix Interests. It's recent SEC filing includes lines like, "Our revenues for the three months ended June 30, 2005 were $0 as compared to $0 for the same period in 2004." The company explains that this is because, in 2003, it "discontinued all pinhooking activities." Instead, it set up a Web site called "www.Barn66.com" and when that didn't sweep in revenue, it set up "www.BetBarn66.com."
You could argue that the devil-in-the-details rule doesn't really apply to one of these companies. If you consider it wise to invest in managers who'd actually name their company My Pool Leaks you might want to limit yourself to index funds, starting right now. My Pool Leaks closed Wednesday trading at a half-cent a share. It's the same thing with the sometimes tortuous wording of the spam itself. Martin Nutraceuticals, for example, was trumpeted in a spam headlined "Martin Nutraceuticals Commences Expansion in Global Nutraceutical Marketplace." You notice that it's only "commencing" its global expansion. It may fail miserably, but at least it commenced. This kind of skepticism is all the more timely because the stock spamming seems to be picking up. Brian McWilliams, who writes a blog called Spam Kings for the forward-thinking O'Reilly Publishing, says he noticed a surge in stock spamming in the last week of September that hasn't yet abated. While it's too early to tell if the spam trend is more than a temporary surge, McWilliams says, the anecdotal evidence suggests that not only is the recent spamming sophisticated -- that is, smart about covering its tracks -- but "these guys are pumping out major quantities of spam." In other words, the stock spammers are bullish. I asked Cyr if his experiment had taught him any valuable lessons about the stock market. "Not about the stock market," he said. "But I learned about the power of blogs." McWilliams' blog picked up on Cyr's site over the weekend, and that post was spotted by uberblog BoingBoing. As a result, the number of visitors to his site skyrocketed from a little more than 100 a day to 19,000 late Wednesday. Before that surge, Cyr had made a whopping $5.42 from Google ads on his site (with some of the Google links pointing to stock-touting sites.) The recent surge in traffic is sure to boost that figure way up into the double digits, a far better return than Cyr could have gotten following those canine stock tips. And that can mean only one thing: Joshua, it's time you started thinking about an IPO.