Stock Analyst Update Is a Stock to Avoid
by George E. Nichols | 08-01-00 (XLA) shareholders were breaking out the party favors Tuesday--the stock was the most actively traded issue on the American Stock Exchange and enjoyed gains between 20% and 30% for most of the afternoon. The runup was sparked by the company's annual earnings announcement, although a last-minute sell-off pared the day's gain to a modest 1%. Despite the stock's increase, shareholders have little to celebrate in the way of business fundamentals. has skyrocketed more than 10,000% over the last year, thanks mainly to Mirror Image, its top holding. Throughout the year, demand for the caching and content-distribution technologies developed by Mirror Image and other companies, such as Inktomi (INKT) and Akamai (AKAM), has driven up the valuations of these firms. Although Xcelera has fallen more than 80% from its high, it remains a speculative investment.

The latest earnings report, released after Monday's market close, highlighted net income of $0.11 per share. However, this figure included gains from the sale of discontinued real-estate operations and without this one-time gain, the company actually lost $0.06. Total sales were $10.3 million, but this number should also be taken with a grain of salt. Practically all of it came from the discontinued real-estate business, while Internet operations accounted for only 0.4% of revenue.

The Mirror Image business didn't generate significant revenue, and the latest release doesn't shed much light on Mirror Image's customer base. A February article in Internet World mentioned the company had "a couple" of paying customers; by comparison, Akamai had around 400 at the end of the first quarter. Also, the release noted two legal disputes, one of which could potentially dilute the amount of stock outstanding by approximately 32%.

Perhaps the greatest concern is the lack of transparency., domiciled in the Cayman Islands, issues earnings releases only once a year. Moreover, Monday's announcement was for the year ended January 31. So even this latest release is outdated, leaving shareholders somewhat in the dark. It is tough to justify the lack of timely information, especially in the fast-changing world of the Internet.

Lacking hard metrics, some shareholders will nevertheless continue to support with blind devotion. It is a great story stock with devoted followers, some of whom don't take criticism of the stock lightly. A columnist who panned the stock was deluged with attacks from angry shareholders. And a Wall Street analyst who issued a "underperform" recommendation for the stock was the target of thinly veiled death threats. This negative rating is noteworthy--such a recommendation is as rare as a snowman in the Cayman Islands.

It is difficult to ascribe a fair value to a company that owns no public holdings, has radically changed its business model over the past year, and generates practically no revenue. And it may be years before's recent investments in startups will prove to be winners or failures. Lacking such hard numbers, investors should analyze management's skill. Although is sometimes compared to Internet Capital Group (ICGE), such a comparison is misguided. is managed by the Vik brothers, who lack the extensive technology experience of ICG management. Instead, their previous experience comes from managing an unsuccessful insurance firm.

The Viks--Alexander, Gustav, and Erik--collectively own nearly three fourths of the company (including shares through an investment trust). While the company has instituted a share buyback plan, the brothers have been aggressively selling their shares. Investors may be wise to follow suit.