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Shopify shares drop as CEO addresses short seller's allegations

CEO Tobias Lutke says "preposterous claims" are unfounded

Shopify's strong third-quarter earnings report and the CEO's defence against "preposterous claims" by a "short-selling troll" did little to ease investor concerns as shares tumbled more than 8%.

The company posted its first adjusted operating profit as a public company in the quarter ended Sept. 30 -- a quarter earlier than anticipated -- and CEO Tobias Lutke publicly addressed allegations made earlier this month by high-profile short-seller Andrew Left of Citron Research that sent shares falling on the Toronto and New York stock exchanges.

Despite this, the company's shares on the Toronto Stock Exchange shed $11.57 or 8.25% to $128.65 in Tuesday morning trading.

Lutke attempted to ease concerns on a call with analysts during which he had promised to address Left's criticism of the company's business model in a video published earlier this month.

"This is going to be a fun one," Lutke said at the start of the call, explaining the company waited this long to address the allegations because it does not engage in short-term stock management and reserves this time each quarter for such activities.

On Oct. 4, Left published a video alleging the company, which provides businesses with online checkout services, doesn't comply with Federal Trade Commission guidelines and suggesting the stock's value is closer to US$60 before any potential FTC involvement.

Left called the company's practices a "good ol' get-rich-quick scheme," and alleged Shopify's partners recruit merchants by wooing them with promises of self-employment and million-dollar incomes.

During the call, the CEO asserted the company sells an e-commerce platform -- not business opportunities.

Shopify complies with FTC regulations, Lutke said, and much of its content shows how hard -- rather than easy -- entrepreneurship is.

"Implying that these businesses are somehow illegitimate is an insult to their hard work," he said.

The company makes most of its revenue from merchants successfully selling through their online shops, he added.

Harley Finkelstein, the company's chief operating officer, said Shopify has a team that approves individual affiliate partners who sign an agreement outlining their disclosure responsibilities.

"Those that don't comply we simply kick out of the program," he said, adding some of the alleged affiliates Left's report alluded to are not partnered with Shopify.

Lutke said Shopify consulted with outside legal counsel, who also believe the claims are unsubstantiated, and has not been contacted by the FTC.

Shares in Shopify came under pressure after Left published his criticism, falling more than 10% on the Toronto Stock Exchange the day Left published his report. The shares have since regained some of the ground they lost, but continued to drop Tuesday.

The company, which keeps its books in U.S. dollars, said it lost US$9.4 million in its third quarter as its revenue grew 72% compared with the same period last year.


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