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2HRS2GO: Autobytel&#039s got you

Given society's current trend toward segmentation -- at least one new group seems to demand recognition each day -- it's time to establish a new organization to recognize the achievements of an unfairly maligned crowd:

Geniuses Offering Today's Crappy Holdings to All.

Think of GOTCHA as a way to honor the true wizards of Wall Street. Forget Omaha sagacity, because success in today's market demands foresight to select today's one-day winners before everyone else does, and fortitude to dump them just as the bandwagon fills up. It brings out the kind of people who create stock chart stalagmites for companies like Navarre (Nasdaq: NAVR), Adam.com (Nasdaq: ADAM) or Skymall (Nasdaq: SKYM).

Is Autobytel a smart investment or just another example of "Gotcha!"?

Think of them as artists wearing veils of science, sort of like astrologers or Dianetics practitioners, but with a less developed sense of ethics.

Now anyone can drive up a stock when the company preannounces strong financial results or high website traffic numbers. But GOTCHA induction only goes to those with the creativity to produce leaps of belief that can only be described as sanctifiable.

Fortunately, today's investors have produced a group worthy of being GOTCHA's inaugural members. So stamp your feet, put your hands together and make a ruckus, because it's time to put the GOTCHA spotlight on the buyers of Autobytel.com (Nasdaq: ABTL)

Autobytel was last seen languishing below its IPO price of 23 while its underwriters' analysts did their very best to talk up the stock, following a first quarter in which the company lost a mere 78 cents a share. Still, investors weren't buying it. Until now.

But driving up Autobytel on today's news requires a highly developed imagination. In case you missed this Very Important Headline, here it is: "Autobytel.com Generates Over $1 Million an Hour in Car Sales"

The news release goes on to crow that Autobytel referrals -- there were 489,000 in the first quarter, says spokesman Don Markley -- now result in an average of $24 million in sales every day. Our proud GOTCHAns, in an act of breathtaking audacity, saw that as reason enough to drive up Autobytel shares 31 percent in the first four hours of trading today.

Star Trek warp engines aren't powerful enough to cross the gap in these investors' logic. Earth to GOTCHAns: Autobytel's money has no direct correlation to actual car sales. "It's not based on a per-referral basis or a per-sale basis," Markley says.

Monthly subscription fees from dealers generate Autobytel's revenue. It doesn't matter if the company passes on $1 in sales or $9 trillion, the flat rates don't change until the contract is up for renegotiation. If Autobytel demonstrates it's bringing in enough business, maybe it can justify a heftier subscription fee.

But that's a matter for down the road. For the foreseeable future, Autobytel's revenue growth won't change markedly. North America won't suddenly sprout 5,000 additional dealers. Transactions will still be closed via telephone, making them t-commerce transacations rather than e-commerce ones.

Nonetheless, everyone should salute our first GOTCHAns. Because the investing world would be a far less interesting place without them.

Other issues:

  • Computer Associates Inc.
  • (NYSE: CA) When the mainframe software vendor announces earnings either today or tomorrow, the results shouldn't differ markedly from First Call's consensus estimate of 82 cents, since the company already preannounced results. But now that federal regulators have approved the Platinum acquisition, investors will want to hear what CA's going to do with it.

  • Network Appliance Inc.
  • (Nasdaq: NTAP) Goldman Sachs & Co. began coverage of this storage specialist by putting it on the "recommend" list, and why not? The company recently reported strong quarterly results, and there's no sign of a let-up anytime soon.

    The rest of the technology market was down in mid-afternoon trading. With two hours left in today's session, the tech-infused Nasdaq Composite Index was down 19.46 to 2407.72, the S&P 500 had fallen 22.08 to 1282.68, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average had slid 216.56 to 10485.60. 22GO>