Monday, January 24, 2005

Travelzoo Crashes

You guessed it--after eBay fell last week because of overvaluation concerns, the online/internet sector was bound to see a couple more key players ail and suffer. On Monday, it was Travelzoo, the online travel site--it shed quite a nice chunk of market cap after an SEC probe was announced along with an earnings miss.

Shares of the New York-based online aggregator of travel deals fell nearly 25% to $55.33 Monday after Travelzoo disclosed a Securities and Exchange Commission inquiry into last year's meteoric stock rise. Further fueling the sell-off, Wall Street was unimpressed with the company's fourth-quarter financial results. Travelzoo's stock has fallen 42% so far this year. That's quite the reversal of fortune from 2004, when shares of Travelzoo soared more than 1,000% (yes, three zeros) to as high as $105.57.

The biggest beneficiary of that mighty ascent was Ralph Bartel, the company's chairman and chief executive. Not only is the stock's float tiny at 16.2 million shares, but 83% of those are held by Bartel. As for those fourth-quarter results, they were a bit light for some folks' liking. Travelzoo, which publicizes others' travel deals mostly on its Web site but doesn't make bookings directly, announced that it more than doubled revenues to $10.5 million from $5.2 million a year earlier. Trouble is, Wall Street analysts expected fourth-quarter sales of $10.9 million, on average. Net income of $1.7 million, which included charges, came in substantially higher than $453,000 a year ago. On a diluted basis, Travelzoo earned nine cents a share, shy of analysts' consensus estimate of 13 cents. The shortfall was largely due to a $977,000 charge for payments to former stockholders.

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