Taser Shareholders Stunned

Let the class action lawsuits begin. It appears the party for stun gun maker Taser (TASR) is ending. Two years ago, TASR stock traded at $0.35 (split-adjusted). After rising to more than $33 in 2004, the stock fell 30% today, to close at $14 per share. Taser is down 55% so far this year, and it’s only January 11th. As a result, lawsuits will be filed, lots of them. And soon, very soon.

Shareholders will scream of being had. Taser didn’t adequately update the public about its business, they’ll say. They will point to the company’s management; a father (Chairman) and two sons (one is CEO, the other is President). The trio sold more than $100 million worth of stock in 2004, all while touting their stun guns’ safety and growth potential to any TV station or reporter that would listen.

They will be accused of insider trading because they were selling stock as they were hyping their company’s prospects. Class action lawyers will conclude they knew business would fall short of their rosy projections, hence they sold, but didn’t tell anyone, leaving shareholders with a 55% loss in 11 days.

Can you blame them? Not the shareholders, they are to blame, but rather Phil, Tom, and Rick Smith. Are they bad people for taking $105 million in profits off the table when their company was being valued at nearly $2 billion, despite only having $68 million in sales? Are they crooks? No. Actually, they are smart. They didn’t know ahead of time when orders would be delayed or exactly when competitors would bring new products to market. What they did know was that companies aren’t worth 30 times revenues very often, and when they are, it’s not for very long.

How about Mark Cuban? Is he a crook? Most people (including myself) think he was a genius when he sold his Internet broadcasting company, Broadcast.com, to Yahoo! for billions of dollars. He got Yahoo! shares in exchange, and even knew to sell those too. Mr. Cuban didn’t sell because he lost interest in his business, or because he doubted whether radio signals would be broadcast over the Internet. He sold because he knew Broadcast.com was not really worth the $7 billion the equity market was pricing it at.

It’s the world we live in today. We do something stupid, lose money because of it, and we sue. We don’t admit we made a mistake and learn from it; vowing never to make the same mistake again. That’s what we should do, but not what most of us will do. Taser shareholders who will choose to join the class action suits are a perfect example.

If you paid 30 times sales for an overhyped pipedream company, you probably will lose money. It happens. We all mess up sometimes. But do yourself a favor. Learn from the mistake. Learn how to value companies properly, so as to avoid losing any more money. But please, don”t sue the people who understood concepts you failed to grasp.

The Smiths may be very guilty of overhyping their company. But not once did they hold a gun (no pun intended) to somebody’s head and force them to buy Taser stock. When they saw an asset they owned become grossly overvalued, they sold. They did what every good investment manager would have done, and is heralded for doing.

We shouldn’t sue people just because they’re smarter than us. I’m not against giving every human being their fair day in court. The problem right now, in 2005, is that we don’t only sue when somebody breaks the law. We sue when we mess up, to get revenge.

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