The financial crisis of 2008 and stock market crash of 2008-09 should have been teachable moments for American business folk, but greed springs eternal in the land of spoiled milk and funny money.
Biotech stocks have been hot commodities in the last few years but because the market has been flooded with IPOs and stock prices inflated, the word “bubble” often enters the discussion, as per Barron’s.
Bubbles don’t have the best of track records these days.
But your gentle narrator is no biotech authority, hedge-fund specialist or Wall Street guru. In fact, he’s a rank amateur who took a very small position in Galena Biopharma in February, the day before a report surfaced on the company’s alleged marketing malfeasance, as reported by Adam Feurestein of The Street.
Soon thereafter, multiple class-action lawsuits were filed against the Lake Oswego, Oregon-based company. Now, the SEC is in on the act, with a full-scale investigation launched around the stock-touting maneuvers of the DreamTeam Group, as reported by The Oregonian.
Galena paid DreamTeam $50,000 to handle its stock-promotion campaign who apparently reached out to various freelance business writers to post puff pieces.
Marketing analysis website Seeking Alpha fell victim to DreamTeam’s unscrupulous ploy with one writer posting as many as five pieces on Galena under different aliases. Seeking Alpha quickly retracted the pieces once the ruse was discovered.
The stock-touting campaign was uncovered in part by another Seeking Alpha writer, Richard Pearson, who played along with a DreamTeam Group contractor asking him to tout Galena and other stocks for an undisclosed sum, as per a separate Barron’s piece.
The long and short of Galena’s tactic was a massive fire sale of the stock by company directors in late January 2014 when the stock climbed to $7.77 a share (on December 16, 2011, GALE was priced at .39). Massive profits were raked in from what looks like an obvious “pump-and-dump” scheme by company insiders.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this corporate cloak-and-dagger is that Galena is developing a breast cancer therapy drug currently in stage three clinical trials. The drug, NeuVax, could also be used in combination with Herceptin, an anti-cancer drug developed by Roche that is already on the market.
Galena posted net losses of $11.2 million in 2011 but we don’t really have visibility into whether or not the stock maneuver was a bid for the company to become cash-positive. An optimist would hope the money was funneled into more R&D on a vaccine for cancer patients, but the likely reality is Galena’s upper management made a serious money grab.
That money grab could end up costing the company millions. While CEO Mark Ahn cleared some $3.8 million from sale of stock in January, per BizJournals, his company could be in the poorhouse by 2015.
The business climate (especially on Wall Street) remains perilous in the aftermath of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. The Gordon Geckos and Jordan Belforts of this world will always look to make a fast buck with little or no regard for the devastation their greed inevitably incurs.
Let this serve as a reminder to first-time investors, always go long on due diligence.