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PostPosted: Mon Jul 03, 2006 1:24 pm    Post subject: From the "Motley Fool" Reply with quote Back to top

Vonage On Hold
By Rick Aristotle Munarriz (TMFBreakerRick)
July 3, 2006

Some newsy tidbits beg for a little more color to make them tantalizing. For instance, take Citigroup's (NYSE: C) move this morning to issue a "Hold" rating on shares of Vonage (NYSE: VG) with an $11 price target.

There are two points in fleshing out this train wreck. The first is that Citigroup was one of the lead underwriters, handing over Vonage shares to new investors at $17 a pop just five weeks ago. The second point is that with the stock down to half its IPO price at the moment, the company's quiet period ended over the weekend and some battered investors were expecting good news from a chattier company.

Did I hold myself to just two points? Can I have another? Thanks. Point three, class action lawsuits are popping out like guppies, with some alluding to Vonage customers that were offered shares at the IPO but are refusing to pay for their purchases now that the stock has tanked and the company's viability is being questioned. A week after the IPO, Vonage issued a terse statement spelling out that buyers are obligated to pay for the stock they bought as part of the customer directed share program. Let's hope that its billing department never has to suffer that kind of problem.

I love it when companies offer their patrons a shot at a ground-floor opportunity. It empowers the individual investor. You have seen companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) and Boston Beer (NYSE: SAM) do it. However, for every satisfied Samuel Adams sipper you have the Garden Botanika shopper and Vonage subscriber that gets burned. Ground floor? Yes, but the elevator is going down to the basement. That's a sticky situation because now you have upset your shareholders as well as your most faithful customers that believed in the cause enough to buy into the offering.

Vonage can't seem to catch a break these days. It's trying, though. As soon as eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) Skype announced that outgoing domestic calls would be free for the rest of the year, Vonage opened up its most popular $24.99 service to include free limited access to some European countries. Last week it introduced the sleek V-Phone, making its service portable with USB connectivity as a snazzy looking flash drive. Nice? Not so nice. It gets raked over as a "me too" product, overlapping some of the Skype functionality that is available for free when it comes to outgoing domestic calls.

When will the bleeding stop? It's hard to say. Every indication is that pricing will only get lower for Voip, and that's a problem because Vonage isn't turning a profit at current prices.

Telco giant offerings like AT&T's (NYSE: T) CallVantage hadn't entered into price wars, but now you have Verizon (NYSE: VZ) slashing the price of its VoiceWing broadband phone service to just $24.95. VoiceWing doesn't include Europe, but Vonage is now facing pricing pressure from telephone and broadband heavies on the high end and the plethora of PC-based software providers like Skype that have limited functionality, but it's hard to argue against nil as a pricing strategy.

So, sure, it stings that even one of its underwriters feels that the IPO price that the market was willing pay in late May is out of whack with reality. Move on. Until Vonage officially cuts its price to $19.99 and presents a clear path to profitability at a lower price point, there may be some more unwelcome static in this connection.

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Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz admits to being impressed with Skype's free service. It saved him a bundle during his family vacation last month. He does not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early.
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†AK and HI residents pay $29.95 shipping. ††Limited time offer. Valid for residents of the United States (&DC), 18 years or older, who open new accounts. Offer good while supplies last and only on new account activations. One kit per account/household. Offer cannot be combined with any other discounts, promotions or plans and is not applicable to past purchases. Good while supplies last. Allow up to 2 weeks for shipping. Other restrictions may apply.

1Unlimited calling and other services for all residential plans are based on normal residential, personal, non-commercial use. A combination of factors is used to determine abnormal use, including but not limited to: the number of unique numbers called, calls forwarded, minutes used and other factors. Subject to our Reasonable Use Policy and Terms of Service.

2Shipping and activation fees waived with 1-year agreement. An Early Termination Fee (with periodic pro-rated reductions) applies if service is terminated before the end of the first 12 months. Additional restrictions may apply. See Terms of Service for details.

HIGH SPEED INTERNET REQUIRED. †VALID FOR NEW LINES ONLY. RATES EXCLUDE INTERNET SERVICE, SURCHARGES, FEES AND TAXES. DEVICE MAY BE REFURBISHED. If you subscribe to plans with monthly minutes allotments, all call minutes placed from both from your home and registered ExtensionsTM phones will count toward your monthly minutes allotment. ExtensionsTM calls made from mobiles use airtime and may incur surcharges, depending on your mobile plan. Alarms, TTY and other systems may not be compatible. Vonage 911 service operates differently than traditional 911. See www.vonage.com/911 for details.

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