Will SkypeFree KO Vonage IPO?

By Andy Kessler

This is a classic high stakes Wall Street sucker punch.

The buzz on the Street is that the Vonage IPO is on the rocks. They HAVE to raise money or they are in a world of hurt. Their investors don’t want to put another penny in and the company seems to still be bleeding cash, $75 million in the first quarter of 2006. Geez, Vonage is begging customers to buy 20% of the deal – not a great sign.

Ebay knows this, why not toy with the mouse before you kill it. What better way to do away with the Vonage IPO and raise their cost of capital then scare investors even more. Every prospective buyer on this deal asking the same questions: what about pricing, why will anyone pay a flat fee per month when skype connects in the US for 2 cents a minute. $25 per month to Vonage is the equivalent of 1250 minutes.

At Skypeout = zero, its infinite minutes. The value of what Vonage provides has just gone from $25 per month to somewhere close to $0, goose egg, nada. Tough to get a return on equity with those kind of numbers.

F-ing brilliant. I’d like to shake the hands of the person that thought this out. Citigroup, Deutsche Bank, and UBS now have to work a lot harder to sell this deal. Boo-hoo.

Back in my days on Wall Street, I remember working on an IPO and just as the roadshow started, some competitor filed a patent infringement suit. They could have done it anytime, but they waited until the IPO pitch was in full swing. Even though the suit ended up being baseless, it changed the game. Capitalism is not without its Department of Dirty Tricks. Not much different than your beloved Yankees overpaying for Johnny Damon – because they could!

Even the timing gives a clue – now through the end of 2006 – just long enough to sink the good ship Vonage. The effect on Ebay? Noise.
They already took the 3% or so dilution when they overpaid for Skype, they might as well have some fun with it. Lose some cash flow? So what, you’ll barely be able to find it in their income statement.

I was starting to give up hope. Maybe things really are fun again.

Andy Kessler is a former hedge fund manager who now writes on investment trends in technology and communications. His latest book, The End of Medicine will be released shortly.