December 16, 2005, 12:00 AM

What stock analysts think of the marriage of Liberty and Provide Commerce

By acquiring Provide Commerce, Liberty Media gets a share of the online floral and gifts segments and leverages its TV merchandising base into b2c e-commerce, say Wall Street research firms.

It’s been two weeks since Liberty Media Corp. announced that it was acquiring Provide Commerce Inc. for $477 million in cash. And now that Wall Street analysts have had a chance to digest the news, they are generally favorable about the marriage.

At first glance it may seem odd that Liberty Media, which owns QVC Corp. and has a major stake in IAC/InteractiveCorp, would want to acquire a pure-play Internet retailer such as Provide Commerce, which specializes in the online sale of perishable goods and operates Proflowers.com, CherryMoonFarms.com, UptownPrime.com and SecretSpoon.com.

But big TV retailers see the intersection of TV and web retailing coming together over the long haul and want a bigger portion of the web retailing market, which is growing at an annual rate of 25%. By acquiring Provide Commerce, Liberty Media can acquire a bigger share of the online floral and gifts segments and leverage its TV merchandising base even more into business-to-consumer e-commerce. “Provide’s single biggest weakness has been its lack of a consumer brand,” write CIBC World Markets analysts Paul Keung and Apruva Shah in a recent research note. “Liberty adds a strong company to its portfolio as a well as a new product category that will complement its extensive current base of offerings.”

Provide Commerce offers Liberty a unique supply chain program that emphasizes fresh products, but Liberty can help Provide increase its national distribution capability. “The deal addresses the challenge of building the various brands at Provide,” says Deutsche Bank analyst Jeetil Patel in a recent brief. “Liberty Media’s interactive properties, in particular QVC, can help Provide expand its distribution and reach to the video opportunity. The deal is complementary to both companies.”

 

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