Is Overstock.com Becoming a New Economic Indicator?

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Overstock.com Inc. (NASDAQ: OSTK) had much of the same growth opportunities ahead of it as the now much larger Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN). The companies even both had very colorful chief executives running them. Then Overstock.com did not manage to expand and grow through the business cycle anywhere nearly as much as Amazon, and Overstock became a fading stock. Now there is perhaps a new way to look at the company. It is conceivable that Overstock could become an economic indicator.

Note that Patrick Byrne, the very colorful founder, is now back as CEO. He may have lost street credibility over using his Sith Lord analogy about short sellers conspiring against him in the past. What you need to know is that Byrne does know a thing or two. He predicted that the most recent recession would be a very bad one, the likes of which most of us have not seen before, months before everything hit the fan.

Shares of Overstock rose some 37% on Thursday after the company’s earnings blew past expectations. Its earnings came in at $7.7 million in net income, generating $0.32 in earnings per share. That was close to a tripling of earnings. Revenues even rose to $312 million from $262.4 million a year ago. and that was well above estimates of $282.3 million.

So why do we think this could be a new economic indicator? For starters, Overstock said that its average order size rose by 21%, even though the number of orders were down marginally. The company even identified higher margin home and garden products as being its strength. If you look at Overstock.com now, it is all about what looks to be good-quality home items from patio furniture to cookware to other housing items. If housing is on the rise, shoppers are getting more and more accustomed to shopping for big-ticket items online. When they see the Overstock prices compared to in-store prices, the chance that they will bite really goes up.

Overstock is partially becoming a play on housing, and that makes this perhaps the “Frugal and Informed Home Shopper Index.” You could easily say the same thing about Amazon.com and other online destinations, but go look at the new Overstock.com website and you will see a site that has many more higher-end items, not the hodgepodge you may remember from years past.

To show just how out-of-favor this stock had become, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch just raised the rating to Buy with a $20 price target on Friday. What is so different about this call is that it represents a total reversal of expectations. Merrill Lynch previously had the rating at Underperform, and with only a $12 price target.

Even after yesterday’s big gain, the stock is up 15% at $18.00 in what is already triple the normal volume in just 20 minutes of trading. The new market cap, even after the past two days worth of gains, is about $416 million.

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