Platinum Partners is the largest investor in Echo Therapeutics (common, warrants, pref and debt). Below is the author’s take on the stock itself, but it raises some bigger questions regarding Platinum such as:
- why was platinum (a $1 billion fund) repeatedly investing in such a micro cap stock.
- How did Platinum value its investment in the warrants and preferred as there is no “market” for these illiquid investments. As you know there were some questions about how Platinum valued some of its other investments.
- Did Platinum invest in ECTE while at the same time preventing Platinum investors from withdrawing from the fund (aka failing to honor redemption requests).
Echo Therapeutics Inc (ECTE) – An Overvalued Stock
Echo Therapeutics (ECTE) has no revenue, is losing money, is facing delisting from the Nasdaq exchange, needs capital, recently filed a shelf offering (very late in the day on a Friday!) and faces competition from much larger industry competitors. According to the latest 10Q, the company had only $42k of unrestricted cash (not much cushion for a company that burns over $1mm per quarter) yet boasts an equity market cap of almost $35 million (using the 20 million shares, which includes convert pref,…most data sources like yahoo and Bloomberg use only 11 million shares outstanding). The company also expects to have negative cash flows for the foreseeable future as it funds its operating losses and capital expenditures. Echo Therapeutics is up 25% YTD and up 100% from its 52 week low.
To make it an even more attractive short candidate, consider that its largest shareholder is Platinum Partners, the fund that one of its executives has been accused of paying bribes to a union boss in exchange for an investment and the same fund that yesterday the FBI raided on reportedly as part of an investigation into Platinum’s valuation of its hard to value illiquid assets. It has also been reported that Platinum will be liquidating some or all of its funds (which makes the short even more interesting). Finally, it has been reported that Platinum failed to honor redemption requests from investors and that Platinum has defaulted on a $30 million loan from New Mountain Capital…in other words, Platinum appears to have some very serious problems and their future is uncertain.
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Furthermore, Platinum’s investment (and ECTE’s market cap) are larger than it might initially appear as most of Platinum’s investment is in the form of convertible Preferred stock, so the number of shares outstanding is, theoretically larger than it appears on the cover of the 10q. In addition there are Blockers limiting the number of shares that the preferred can be converted into, so the ownership table in the proxy table understates Platinum’s true ownership, although the footnotes give more accurate information.
Echo Therapeutics is trying to develop a non-invasive (aka no needles), wireless, continuous glucose monitoring system. You can see the latest presentation at http://echotx.com/investors/investor-relations/ . The company has been developing its products for several years now but still has no commercially viable product. It probably doesn’t help that they spend more on SG&A than they do on R&D and that they compete with companies with significantly greater resources. ECTE does talk about getting approval from the Chinese FDA (we have our doubts) and the company does put out press releases on things that we believe are of limited real value.
To avoid delisting from the Nasdaq, by the July 5, 2016 ECTE will need stockholders’ equity above $2.5 million (last quarter it was negative $4.7 million) and to provide projections that it can maintain that amount through June 30, 2017 (remember the company loses money and lost $2.6 million last quarter). ECTE could, theoretically meet the Nasdaq requirements by doing one of 2 things, neither of which would be good for current shareholders: 1) Raise equity through a recently filed (but not yet effective) $25 million shelf, although it is unclear if ECTE has enough time to pursue this option and who would buy the stock or 2) Have Platinum convert some/all of its preferred stock into common stock, although given Platinum’s other problems I’m not sure how focused they are on ECTE at the moment.
In addition to being ECTE’s largest shareholder, Platinum has the right to nominate one director to ECTE’s Board. Platinum’s designee is ECTE’s Chairman, Michael M. Goldberg. Goldberg’s previous biographies indicate he used to work for Platinum. However his employment by Platinum is not mentioned in the bio listed in ECTE’s SEC filings and we wonder why. (Note: Mr. Goldberg is also Board Director for ticker NAVB, another Platinum related company whose stock has cratered recently.)
Besides Michael Goldberg, Echo Therapeutics has 2 other non-employee directors, one of whom is Mr. Goldberg’s first cousin. Couldn’t ECTE find a qualified director who was not related to an existing Board member? To be clear, we don’t know either of the Goldbergs nor are we suggesting they have done anything wrong. However, their ties to Platinum (and each other) are red flags for us.
Not surprisingly, ECTE has failed to attract much interest from institutional investors. If ECTE is such an interesting investment, why have so many sophisticated investors avoided it?
Based on the latest proxy as of April 2016 we estimate Platinum’s investment to consist of 783k common shares, 5.6 mm shares (theorectically convertible from preferred stock) and 2.8 million warrants. Clearly exiting its position will be challenging considering the company needs to sell shares too to raise cash and the trading volume is limited.
Echo Therapeutics is an overvalued stock where we believe both insiders and the company will need to sell large numbers of shares and we don’t see how either can occur at these prices.