Los Angeles Business Journal

Couple of Critics Savage Online Payment Service

INTERNET: Virtual Piggy stock falls after slams on revenue and shareholders. By Tom Dotan Monday, September 30, 2013

Share prices for Virtual Piggy Inc. curled around last week after a pair of articles slammed the business and its investors.

The company, which offers a payment tool for kids to shop online at youth-appropriate sites, was called out in early September by Seeking Alpha for what the market analysis site said was consistently weak revenue.

Days later, a post on the blog ShareSleuth, which investigates public companies, raised questions about the backgrounds of Virtual Piggy’s largest shareholders.

Publication of the Seeking Alpha piece Sept. 9 saw the start of a plunge that took shares down 57 percent, from $1.97 to 85 cents on Sept. 21, the day after ShareSleuth posted its article. While Virtual Piggy rebounded a bit last week, closing at $1.20 on Sept. 25, it was still the biggest decliner on the LABJ Stock Index, falling 25 percent for the week. (See page 48.)

The chief criticism brought up by Seeking Alpha was the length of time Virtual Piggy has gone without posting any significant revenue.

In the quarter ended June 30, the company posted a net loss of $3.4 million (-3 cents a share) on revenue of just $58. Virtual Piggy’s revenue comes from charging a fee on all transactions made through its payment system.

The ShareSleuth article, published Sept. 20, claimed that Peter Pelullo, who, with 16 percent of the stock, is Virtual Piggy’s biggest shareholder, has close family ties to organized crime. It also said the company’s original chief executive, Alfredo Villa, was formerly a director at Private Media Group Inc., an adult entertainment studio.

Virtual Piggy issued a press release last week downplaying the conclusions in the article. Although the release did not deny the associations described in the article, it insisted that Virtual Piggy “is managed solely by its board of directors and management team.”

ShareSleuth subsequently pulled the piece from its site. Contacted via email, its author, Chris Carey, wrote that the piece was being revised and that a new version would be posted shortly. Carey said he stood by his initial reporting, but did not elaborate.

A company spokeswoman referred all questions about the Virtual Piggy’s investors to the press release. But Jo Webber, its chief executive and founder, dismissed the volatility of Virtual Piggy’s stock price, saying it was expected for a public company that’s still building its user base.

As for the revenue, she insisted it would pick up. The company announced recently it has 500,000 people signed up for the service and is partnered with 115 online stores in the United States and Europe.

“By building a solid engaged consumer base in 2013, we are well positioned to drive revenue in 2014,” Webber said in the email.