Message Board Sends Dot-Com Stock Soaring
by George Nichols | 02-02-00 | Morningstar

Shares of (VFND), a technology-focused venture-capital company, surged 30% Wednesday to 6 13/16, despite the lack of any breaking news. So what boosted the stock? It could be message-board posts by company executives.

Mike Dreis, the company's director of investor relations, confirmed in a telephone interview that insiders had indeed been posting on the Yahoo message board. The posts began at least as early as January 26, and have picked up steam, with Wednesday being the busiest day yet for the insiders.

Among those posting was Melvin Masters, the company's chairman, CEO, and president, who was writing under the name of "melvfnd." 

A writer called "VFND_Staff" has contributed the most messages, discussing topics such as the coming launch of numerous vertical business-to-business communities such as and, which are related to its affiliated company, B2BXchange.

Mike Ellsworth, vice president of strategic planning, joined the discussion Wednesday with his first two posts under the moniker "xchangeellsworth." In them, he mentions that Farmland, a co-op, has signed up to be an XchangeExpert (providing community and answering questions, roughly akin to "guides") for Ellsworth wrote that "Farmland is a $10 billion, 600,000 member farmer-owned cooperative with sales in all 50 states and nearly 90 countries."

If this is indeed the case, it would be a tremendous boost for B2BXchange, considering it has yet to generate any Internet revenue (as of its January 27 earnings release). When asked by another poster why this information had not been disseminated in a press release, Ellsworth replied that in the future "you'll see a lot of PR support for the VX [vertical exchange] launch--just stay tuned."

Dreis, during the interview, said he couldn't confirm if such a deal had been struck. But Ellsworth confirmed in another interview that the agreement had been reached and was "inked quite some time" ago, although he conceded it had yet to be disclosed in a press release.

Asked if there was a connection between his postings and the stock runup, Ellsworth seemed genuinely baffled, saying he "couldn't tell you." He also said he "couldn't provide a good answer" on why he chose the Yahoo boards to break the news. As for posting these messages, Ellsworth admitted he is "still learning how to use this tool."

Although unorthodox, roundtable chats with executives are not unprecedented--though they rarely move the stock price significantly. David Wetherell, CEO of CMGI (CMGI), frequents the boards at Raging Bull (which is owned by Altavista, a CMGI company) as "dwether." And the chairman, CEO, and president of Inter-Tel (INTL) Steve Mihaylo also posts frequently on the Yahoo message boards.

Unlike those companies, sports a modest market capitalization of $100 million. Thus, an active message board is more likely to have an effect on the company's stock price, especially when these messages provide previously undisclosed details. As message boards become more popular, this trend of insider postings could continue to gain steam. However, as Wednesday's happenings show, these postings, even if well-intentioned, entail plenty of risk--certainly enough to keep corporate legal departments on edge.