The CEO of Whole Foods spent a ton of time on Yahoo messageboards bashing the value of Wild Oats stock — just before bidding to take over Wild Oats, according to a document made public earlier this week by the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC is trying to block the takeover in a lawsuit, on antitrust grounds.
In January 2005, someone using the name "Rahodeb"
went online to a Yahoo stock-market forum and posted this opinion: No
company would want to buy Wild Oats Markets Inc., a natural-foods grocer,
at its price then of about $8 a share.
"Would Whole Foods buy OATS?" Rahodeb asked, using Wild Oats' stock
symbol. "Almost surely not at current prices. What would they gain? OATS
locations are too small." Rahodeb speculated that Wild Oats eventually
would be sold after sliding into bankruptcy or when its stock fell below
$5. A month later, Rahodeb wrote that Wild Oats management "clearly
doesn't know what it is doing. . . . OATS has no value and no future."
The comments were typical of banter on Internet message boards for stocks,
but the writer's identity was anything but. Rahodeb was an online
pseudonym of John Mackey, co-founder and chief executive of Whole Foods
Market Inc. Earlier this year, his company agreed to buy Wild Oats for
$565 million, or $18.50 a share.
For about eight years until last August, the company confirms, Mr. Mackey
posted numerous messages on Yahoo Finance stock forums as Rahodeb. It's an
anagram of Deborah, Mr. Mackey's wife's name. Rahodeb cheered Whole Foods'
financial results, trumpeted his gains on the stock and bashed Wild Oats.
Rahodeb even defended Mr. Mackey's haircut when another user poked fun at
a photo in the annual report. "I like Mackey's haircut," Rahodeb said. "I
think he looks cute!"