FriendFinder Networks (FFN) today published what appears to be a Q1 2011 earnings release, which was interesting because its Q1 results were actually published back in May. A stylish investor slideshow accompanying an "earnings conference call" shows the Penthouse and "adult" dating site owner making "income from operations" of $72 million and "adjusted earnings" of $105 million, for the full year of 2010.
Clearly, FFN has performed an economic miracle! It is a profitable, content-driven dot-com play in a world where not even Groupon (GRPN) can make a dime.
Of course, this is all accounting smoke-and-mirrors. FFN made a net loss: $43 million last year, and another net loss of $3.6 million in Q1 2011, down from a loss of $8.3 million the year before. The only reason FFN can claim any profit at all is because it asks its investors to ignore all those inconvenient expenses that are the cost of doing business in real life: debt service, tax, litigation and finance expenses.
There's a particular chutzpah in FFN asking us to ignore the debt and interest payments, because the only reason the company exists is that the struggling Penthouse porn mag empire raised $500 million in debt to buy out the relatively healthy FriendFinder web company. Interest payments on that debt are about $115 million a year. Debt is actually FFN's biggest corporate expense; examining the company without examining the debt is a bit like examining Ford without the cost of steel.
Ignoring actual costs to generate fictional profits is becoming a bit of a habit in dot-com land:
- Groupon also asked investors to accept a nonsensical definition of its profits in its recent IPO filing.
- LinkedIn (LNKD) is currently profitable, just, but it spent years telling the public it was making a profit prior to that when it was not.
- Demand Media also asked investors to ignore its actual expenses -- paying freelancers to write hundreds of articles for its content farm -- in favor of amortizing them over five years as if they were an investment in equipment or property.