Online retailer Overstock really doesn’t want to be in the e-commerce business anymore.
Patrick Byrne, the CEO of Overstock and a blockchain evangelist has made no secret of the fact that he wants to run a blockchain business, not a retailer. But investors aren’t exactly sure what that means.
“It’s still confusing to most people — even our own investors. Very few have done their homework,” Byrne told CNN Business on Friday.
That’s why Byrne said he plans to give a lot more detail about the big picture plans for Overstock’s blockchain businesses when it reports its latest earnings sometime in March.
The company has made some moves into blockchain over the past few years.
It launched the Medici Ventures investing firm to focus on blockchain technology, a public digital ledger of transactions, and it is also developing its own tZero security tokens for e-commerce and trading.
Byrne told CNBC in December 2017 that the goal was to sell or reorganize the core Overstock business within 60 to 90 days so he could go all-in on blockchain. That didn’t happen.
The CEO reiterated his plan to get out of online retail last November, telling the Wall Street Journal he hoped to have a sale done by this February. Investors seem to believe him.
Shares of Overstock have shot up more than 20% since then, even as bitcoin prices have tumbled nearly 15% during the same time frame.
Despite the emphasis on switching Overstock to a blockchain company, Wall Street seems more focused on trying to figure out when the online retail business will finally be sold — and who might buy it.
Some on Wall Street believe that Walmart, which has made numerous digital commerce acquisitions already in order to become more competitive with Amazon, could be interested. Walmart did not respond to a request for comment.
However, Overstock shares have pulled back sharply as Byrne’s February target draws near without any sign of a deal being imminent. Overstock fell 9% on Thursday.
“It does not surprise me that nothing has happened yet,” said Bill Baker, an analyst with GARP Research. He notes that retail is a notoriously tough and competitive business and that Overstock has been losing money in it.
But Baker thinks a sale for Overstock’s retail business could still materialize and that it could fetch about $100 million.
Bet on blockchain may eventually pay off big
Overstock’s current market value is just north of $650 million though. So does that mean that the company’s blockchain businesses are really worth more than half a billion dollars?
Baker believes they are. He said Overstock is making the right call to focus on the more rapidly growing blockchain world instead of the perennially challenged retail business and that the stock could rally further thanks to tZero and Medici.
Byrne sounds frustrated by how difficult it is to remain in retail as well.
He noted that online home furnishings company Wayfair, a rival to Overstock that offers very low prices, is unprofitable and has lost nearly $1 billion during the past three years.
“There’s no point in trying to compete,” Byrne said. “It’s way too expensive.”