RealTime IT News

Three Internet IPOs, One Market Embrace

All three Internet companies that began trading Tuesday can claim some kind of edge to attract investors.

One sells software in the hot e-commerce space. Another is first-mover in a market - online loan processing - that promises to be a lucrative niche. The third is an infrastructure/bandwidth play, a sector that has emerged as a favorite among Internet investors and analysts.

But only mortgage broker E-Loan was able to flex its muscles in the early going, opening Tuesday at $20 per share, 43% above its offer price of $14 for 3.5 million shares, before jumping as high as $51. It had settled in the mid-$30s by the afternoon, virtually assuring it of a first-day close of more than 100% above the offer. Shares are trading on Nasdaq under the symbol EELN.

Besides its ownership of a brand-critical "e" category - Eloan.com is pretty easy to remember - E-Loan boasts impressive revenue growth. The Dublin, Calif.-based company had $6.8 million in revenues, 555% above the '97 total of $1 million. Early investors appear not to be bothered by the mounting losses, which grew from $1.4 million in 1997 to $11.2 million last year.

The other two 'Net IPOs, from banking software vendor nFront and dedicated access provider Digital Island, struggled out of the gate, though nFront showed signs of life.

Offering 3.9 million shares at $10 each, nFront opened trading Tuesday at $10.56, and then clawed its way into the low teens. Shares trade under the Nasdaq symbol NFNT.

Located in Norcross, Ga., nFront sells e-commerce software to small and mid-sized banks that want to offer services online. A potentially huge market, but also one threatened by the recent wave of mega-mergers among banking giants.

Given that ominous trend for its customer base, nFront's revenue growth of 38% in 1998 (from $0.8 million to $1.1 million) will be a legitimate sticking point for some investors.

Digital Island's flat start comes as a slight surprise since the company, trading under the Nasdaq symbol ISLD, plays in the sector that is the current favorite among Internet investors and analysts - infrastructure/bandwidth.

Based in San Francisco, Digital Island targets multinational corporations for their networking services, which include application hosting, network management and ISP access in 17 countries via unshared Internet connections.

Like many infrastructure companies, Digital Island has incurred heavy upfront costs, covered until now by generous amounts of venture capital (including a $50 million infusion in March). Sales last year were $2.3 million, against $16.6 million in net losses.

Digital Island has some impressive customers, including Cisco Systems, Novell and Mastercard. However, it also faces intense competition from the big telcos, which are expanding data services offerings, and the worldwide network of fiber that will give customers high-speed alternatives.

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