Overstock.com shares spike after blockchain unit announces for-profit property registry

  • Overstock.com shares briefly rise 8.79 percent to $58.15 a share after CEO Patrick Byrne announces a joint venture for a global property registry based on the blockchain technology behind bitcoin and other digital currencies.
  • The for-profit venture is in partnership with well-known Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto, who has argued that formal documentation of land ownership is the key to alleviating poverty in underdeveloped countries.
  • Independent investor Marc Cohodes thinks if Byrne can deliver on his blockchain investments, Overstock shares are worth between $200 and $400 each.
Boxes sit stacked inside a United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) truck in the shipping area at the Overstock.com Inc. distribution center in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Ken James | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Boxes sit stacked inside a United Parcel Service Inc. (UPS) truck in the shipping area at the Overstock.com Inc. distribution center in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Shares of Overstock.com surged Wednesday after its CEO announced a joint venture for a global property registry based on bitcoin's blockchain technology.

Overstock Chief Executive Patrick Byrne and the company's blockchain-focused subsidiary Medici Ventures are partnering with well-known Peruvian economist Hernando de Soto to establish the for-profit venture called De Soto.

An earlier report said the venture would be nonprofit, but a company spokesperson confirmed to CNBC that the venture will be for profit.

Byrne also has hired Guggenheim Partners to explore options for selling Overstock, which is primarily an online home goods retailer. A multibillion-dollar investment fund has already approached Overstock, and interest from Asia has been especially strong, according to the company.

The stock briefly climbed 8.79 percent to $58.15 a share Wednesday. Overstock.com shares have leaped more than 220 percent this year following news the company is planning to launch a licensed digital coin trading platform through its subsidiary tZero and raise funds through an initial coin offering. On Friday, Morgan Stanley Investment Management disclosed in a filing that it had an 11.4 percent stake in Overstock.com.

"If [Byrne] executes properly on blockchain I think the stock's worth somewhere between $200 and $400," said Marc Cohodes, a noted short seller and independent investor who turned positive on Overstock.com in October. "I own a lot of this thing. I bought a lot more the other day when it pulled back."

"These guys have spent real money" on blockchain, Cohodes said. "Global property management on the blockchain. How big is that market?"

Overstock.com is the third-most active corporate investor in blockchain technology over the last five years, according to data company CB Insights. Japan-based SBI Holdings ranks first and Google, Alphabet's subsidiary, is second, the data analysis showed.

Blockchain technology creates a permanent, open record of all transactions on a network. The technology allows two parties to interact directly without an intermediary. Proponents say blockchain can help speed up financial transactions and improve security of personal identification, among other applications.

One of economist de Soto's major arguments is that formal documentation of land ownership is the key to alleviating poverty in underdeveloped countries. The De Soto venture plans to use the blockchain to document the informal records of local property ownership.