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Geared-to-Hispanics Web site Quepasa.com liquidating assets

SHARE Geared-to-Hispanics Web site Quepasa.com liquidating assets

PHOENIX (AP) — Even with entertainer Gloria Estefan as a spokeswoman and sports mogul Jerry Colangelo on its board of directors, Phoenix-based bilingual Web site Quepasa.com, geared toward U.S. Hispanics, announced Wednesday it will liquidate its assets.

Since a $48 million public offering in 1999, Quepasa has lost at least $26.3 million this year and keeps bleeding cash.

"Our board of directors has determined that liquidation following the sale of our assets is the best way to maximize value and provide liquidity to our shareholders," Quepasa's chairman and CEO Gary Trujillo said in a statement.

Trujillo did not immediately return calls Wednesday seeking further comment on the liquidation, which includes the Quepasa.com Web site and three wholly owned subsidiaries: RealEstateEspanol.com, shopping site Etrato.com and Credito.com.

All of the sites will remain in operation during the liquidation.

Quepasa also will take a one-time restructuring charge of $880,000 for the fourth quarter ending Dec. 31 for workforce reductions. The company fired 38 of its 58 employees on Nov. 14 and plans more cuts through the sale.

The liquidation is subject to shareholder approval with a meeting expected in the next few months. Proceeds from the liquidation, which includes furniture, fixtures and equipment, will be distributed to shareholders.

Quepasa has been actively seeking a buyer since May and announced plans to sell off three of its subsidiaries last month after third-quarter losses of $7.9 million.

"With each passing month, it's evident that finding a buyer for these kinds of properties can be very difficult," said Glenn Powers, an analyst with Newport Beach, Calif.-based Roth Capital Partners Inc. "What you're seeing out there in ad-supported Web media properties is companies that are getting sold are essentially getting sold for nothing."

The Nasdaq Stock Market halted trading of Quepasa.com Inc. on Wednesday. The stock last traded at 9 cents per share, down 3 cents.

The 2-year-old company went public in June 1999, offering 4 million shares. The stock debuted at $18.75 per share and was selling as high as $25.88 a few weeks later.

Quepasa's stock opened this year at around $10 per share and went into a free-fall after that with the company losing $7.5 million in 1999's fourth quarter, $10.7 million in this year's first quarter and $7.7 million in the second quarter.

Analysts said the company never found its niche and struggled in the shadow of more popular portals such as America Online, Netscape and Yahoo!

"The content-site market right now is very tough and Quepasa just couldn't take it to the next level," said Charlene Li, research director for Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "There are just so many other places to go for a consumer and too many diverse players."

The Quepasa site includes a search engine, free e-mail, free Web pages, Spanish language news feeds, worldwide weather information, chat rooms, games, maps and message boards.

Some analysts said Quepasa tried to grow too big, too fast — especially by acquiring a bilingual home-buying services site last March.

Others insist Quepasa's targeted audience was too broad and didn't take into consideration Cubans and Mexicans living in the United States.

"It would be like trying to create a Web site for the Caucasion market. It needs to be more clearly defined," said Tim Miller, president of Webmerger.com, a San Francisco-based research company.

The company began in 1998 with a staff of nearly 100 and a heavy hitter on its board in Colangelo, managing general partner of baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks and president/CEO of the NBA's Phoenix Suns.

Quepasa paid Estefan $2 million to serve as a spokeswoman but the company scrambled to avoid losing $2 million more it invested in the singer's canceled U.S. tour last summer.