Overstock.com CEO aims to sell or reorganize e-commerce biz so he can focus on blockchain

Patrick M. Byrne, Overstock

George Frey | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Patrick M. Byrne, Overstock

Overstock.com CEO Patrick Byrne intends to have more clarity in the next three months on selling or reorganizing its retail business to focus on blockchain, the technology behind bitcoin.

"My goal is [within] 60 to 90 days we walk away from this," Byrne told On Events Wednesday. He said he has an "ethical obligation" to focus for the next five years on his newly announced De Soto joint venture for a blockchain-based global property registry. "We think we can change the world for 5 billion people."

Byrne said the company is looking at three options for its home goods e-commerce business:

First, a traditional brick-and-mortar business could buy the operations.

Second, a "strategic investor, probably a guy out of Asia" could invest in the business. An approach from a wealthy Asian investor prompted Byrne to ask Guggenheim to help the company explore sale options, he said.

Third, the company could "go private" with a private equity company like Bain, Carlyle or KKR and "go off the market for two years" in order to integrate Overstock's blockchain work with the retail arm.

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Byrne had indicated on Overstock.com's third quarter earnings call that he could sell the retail business.

The only Wall Street analyst covering the stock, D.A. Davidson's Tom Forte, had subsequently raised his price target on the stock to $85 a share, with the retail business accounting for $58 a share.

Marc Cohodes, a noted short seller who announced his positive turn on the stock in October, said Wednesday he estimates the retail business is worth about $60 to $90 a share.

Those estimates would value the e-commerce arm at about $1.5 billion to $2.25 billion, since Overstock.com has 25.02 million shares outstanding.

Shares of Overstock.com traded little changed Thursday after gaining 13.9 percent Wednesday to $60.90 a share after news of the company's for-profit joint venture with well-known Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto. However, Byrne told Eyes On Events Wednesday that while he expects the venture to generate revenue, making money is not the primary goal.

Overstock's shares have now surged 248 percent this year and has a market value of $1.5 billion as investors bet the company's work on blockchain could reap benefits similar to the meteoric surge of digital currency bitcoin, which was the first application of blockchain technology. The cryptocurrency has leaped more than 1,600 percent this year, according to CoinDesk's bitcoin price index.

Blockchain eliminates the need for a third party intermediary by creating a rapid, permanent record of transactions in a network.

Byrne has a big vision for his investments in the technology, which began when Overstock launched Medici Ventures in 2014.

Medici's subsidiary has majority ownership of tZero, which said in September it is launching an SEC-compliant platform for trading digital coins. TZero is set to begin its initial coin offering on Monday and plans to raise $500 million.

TZero already operates a blockchain-based system for short sellers. In addition to launching the digital coin trading platform, Byrne said he is in contact with two countries about launching an overseas trading platform for coins that are considered "utility" tokens rather than "securities."

Cohodes estimates Overstock's blockchain business could be worth far more than the e-commerce operations. He said Wednesday that tZero adds another $100 to $200 to the stock, an additional value of $2.5 billion to $5 billion. D.A. Davidson's Forte has said Medici Ventures and tZero are together worth at least $27 a share, or about $675.5 million.

CNBC

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