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Lumber Liquidators shares spike as critic backs off

Shares of troubled building-material supplier Lumber Liquidators jumped 20 percent after hours on Monday when Whitney Tilson proclaimed the company to be "sloppy and naïve, but not evil."

Tilson, the founder and managing partner of Kase Capital Management, published his latest on the company at SeekingAlpha.com, noting that he has covered his short position on the company earlier Monday. The hedge fund manager had originally told CBS's "60 Minutes" about Chinese-made flooring with higher levels of formaldehyde than permitted under California's health and safety standards.

That report, and subsequent news, tanked the stock: It had traded at more than $67 in February before warning investors of the forthcoming investigative segment, and shares closed Monday at about $14.

"In the past week, I've received information that leads me to believe that senior management of Lumber Liquidators wasn't aware that the company was selling Chinese-made laminate that had high levels of formaldehyde," he wrote. "If this information is correct, then the company was sloppy and naïve, but not evil."

Tilson wrote that the lack of a "smoking gun" for Lumber Liquidators means the the "doomsday" scenario of bankruptcy and a zero-dollar price-tag for the stock is less likely.

The investor said his information, the specifics of which he said he couldn't reveal, indicated the company's management continued to sell the laminate in question after a bombshell report "in large part because they genuinely believed that the product was safe and compliant."

Still, Tilson emphasized that his new information did not change his mind "that the company was, in fact, selling dangerous, formaldehyde-drenched laminate and that it completely bungled damage-control efforts after the 60 Minutes story aired."

Before Monday, TIlson wrote, he had maintained "and even added to" his short position in the stock, but he now no longer finds the company to be an "attractive short."

"In the court of public opinion and among regulators, judges and juries, intent matters," he wrote. "If the senior management of Lumber Liquidators didn't have evil intent, then the downside scenarios for the company (and the stock) are less likely and the upside (recovery) scenarios are more likely."

For tax reasons, Tilson said, he covered his short by purchasing in-the-money call options expiring next month, which he expects to close in the new year.