Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's wacky Web rants

The founder of the natural foods grocer was its number one fan on the Internet, under a pseudonym

By Andrew Leonard

Published July 11, 2007 10:37PM (EDT)

OK, we've always considered Whole Foods CEO and co-founder John Mackey, a man who manages to be both an organic food-loving vegan and a hugely successful anti-union capitalist, to be something of a freak. But now we're wondering how the man ever finds time to sleep. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that for eight years, John Mackey, the CEO and founder of Whole Foods, posted "voluminously" in Yahoo stock market discussion forums under the pseudonym Rahodeb, an anagram of his wife's first name, Deborah.

The news came to light in a Federal Trade Commission filing made available online on Tuesday as part of the FTC's antitrust suit attempting to prevent Whole Foods' proposed purchase of competitor Wild Oats. But the filing only includes one of Mackey's many posts.

Whole Foods says they will open 25 stores in OATS territories in the next 2 years.... The writing is on the wall. The end game is now underway for OATS.... Whole Foods is systematically destroying their viability as a business --market by market, city city.

For the rest, we're left to Google on our own. But it takes mere seconds before you can find yourself reading a post by "Rahodeb" dated May 23, 2003. He starts by responding to another bulletin board participant who has been wondering where he's been lately.

I'm still around observing the chatter. My long-term investment position is intact as is Whole Foods fundamental story. Fluctuations from quarter to quarter are irrelevant to a long-term investor such as myself. Mr. Market's manic/depressive behavior on Whole Foods recently has been interesting to watch but doesn't really matter over the long-term. It was inevitable that Whole Foods same store sales would regress back to their long-term average of 8%. Since the company will be comparing against 10%+ same store sales for the next 3 quarters I don't expect either the comparisons to be very strong (Whole Foods management has guided this way as well) or the stock price to gain very much (unless the stock market itself carries it up with a Bull Market which it might).What is the most interesting thing to me is that Whole Foods is building up its real estate pipeline at a rapid clip. 12 new store leases announced in the last 2 quarters and over 1.2 million sq. ft. of real estate in development. Growth will be accelerating again beginning next year. If the stores in development are good ones (and new leases keep being added at the same rate) then Whole Foods is going to be increasing both its top and bottom lines at a 15% to 20% for the next 5 years. If so, then the stock price will likely double in 4 to 5 years. Good enough for me!

The Journal does not speculate as to whether Mackey might be responsible for any legal wrongdoing in his posts. One assumes that the CEO of a publicly traded company would not be dumb enough to leak insider information on a stock discussion board, or make unmerited forward-looking statements in an effort to pump up Whole Foods stock. But who knows? It's sure hard to imagine any Whole Foods corporate public relations person being anything but horrified at the news that the CEO is bashing competitors and predicting stock prices under a pseudonym out in the wild Internet.

As for the company? The Journal reports that it released "a statement that among millions of documents the company gave the FTC were postings Mr. Mackey made from 1999 to 2006 'under an alias to avoid having his comments associated with the Company and to avoid others placing too much emphasis on his remarks.'"

We'll wait with great anticipation to see where the dust settles on this one. But in the meantime, How the World Works will be evaluating the exuberant rantings of stock promoters on random Internet bulletin boards with a newfound respect. You never know, that could be the CEO frothing at the mouth!

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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