RealTime IT News

Internet Stocks: The Top 10 to Watch & a Few New Ones

The select few stocks we said to keep an eye on this year (see ISR 12-31-97) are up a blended 109% year to date, even after spiking recently at all-time highs, a point profit takers may have taken advantage of. Are the 10 still worth watching?

Eyes On The Net

Company Symbol Why 12/31/97 5/20/98 % change
@Home ATHM Could be hybrid TV/Web 'AOL on steroids' service $25.13 $ 41.00 63%
AOL AOL World's largest aggregator of eyeballs & wallets $45.25 $ 86.50 91%
Concentric CNCX Virtual networks & corporations $8.88 $ 22.63 155%
Earthlink ELNK Debating how much portal dial up deals will affect it $25.75 $ 55.38 115%
Infoseek SEEK Was at discount to peers now gap is gone $10.75 $ 29.25 172%
Network Solutions NSOL .com is a brand, the suffix of choice $13.13 $ 41.06 213%
Onsale ONSL More item sellthough potential than Amazon $18.00 $ 29.50 64%
RealNetworks RNWK Streaming media - how long before Microsoft wants this space? $13.88 $ 24.78 79%
Sportsline SPLN Share dilution when earnings come is a concern $10.75 $ 26.63 148%
US Web USWB Web professional services in key cities $9.38 $ 20.75 121%
    TOTAL 180.88 377.47 109%
bold = softening our view on   AVERAGE 18.09 37.75 109%

Our instinct on three of the stocks (noted in bold) is to watch very closely with extra discerning. Infoseek (NASDAQ:SEEK), for one, was originally in the spotlight at our initial December 31, 1997 table because our number crunching showed what we believed was a valuation gap between it and the search sector peers. That gap seems to have closed. We still like SEEK but now look for commerce and ad growth as reasons to keep it on the list.

Internet service provider Earthlink (NASDAQ:ELNK) did some savvy deals, especially with Sprint to feed it new subs. Its focus on customers is also notable as we stated before. But the recent trend of portals such as Lycos, Yahoo!, Excite, and Infoseek signing deals with AT&T or MCI to create "virtual" ISPs or de facto online services, could threaten Earthlink's position in our view. At the same time, however, where Earthlink leads is the hands on relationship with its customers that a Yahoo!/MCI doesn't have. If something goes wrong on a portal-telco ISP service who does the customer call? And how much value does a portal add to an ISP anyway, the content is already free. We'll see.

RealNetworks (NASDAQ:RNWK) has done a good job of getting critical mass in the early stages of the media streaming field. The lurking thought is how long will it take Microsoft to handle RealNetworks the way it dealt with Netscape? Give away streaming players and tools? Broadcast.com's pending IPO is an area RealNetworks could have leveraged into easily.

Sportsline (NASDAQ:SPLN) softened on the ongoing press war between it and ESPN SportsZone. The Olympics are over; let's see the sports hero Web deals come to life before we get excited again about the action.

Our view on the others remains as it was, with a few new wrinkles. Although @Home (NASDAQ:ATHM) reports a relatively low subscriber-to-homes passed ratio, it could be one of the only true threats to Microsoft's WebTV. Both have about 300k subs. But @Home is lightspeed faster than WebTV Ma Bell snail pace.

@Home's cadre of cable giants already own the box at the TV level and we doubt they'll let Microsoft gain control of that box. Cable operators are entrepreneurs, they often built their business one wire at a time themselves--they know the game well. The Radio Shack brigade (PC industry) wants to own TV but cable and broadcasters own the eyeballs and brands.

ONSALE (NASDAQ:ONSL), in our opinion, has more shelf space than Amazon.com. Auction everything. Margins are thin but this is a volume exercise.

Egghead.com (NASDAQ:EGGS) to us is more of a market cap play than an innovator to latch onto. Its SurplusAuction wasn't smooth when we tried it, but with its cash and main brand it has a chance.

A few stocks we thought may be worth a peek:

Who Symbol Why?
Egghead.com EGGS Cash and some brand equity to extend
E*TRADE EGRP A lot of built in leverage in financial services
Mecklermedia MECK Cash flow to fuel growth in Web and events
Amazon AMZN Movies and Europe and plenty of cash to play with

Amazon.com (NASDAQ:AMZN), despite being a candidate for the stock most likely talked about in e-commerce, and one that is severely over hyped in the print and media space, just cashed up with a bond placement that was oversubscribed and the amount upped to meet demand--$325 million. The company has movies and music potential but the brand is book heavy so we'll see if it can make the shift to multiple products. Maybe.

Mecklermedia (NASDAQ:MECK), producer of this report, has real earnings and cash flow to grow its already growing Web content network. The company's trade shows and conferences are pilgrimages for the industry.

E*TRADE (NASDAQ:EGRP) may be one of the most oversold e-commerce stocks. Yes, Schwab and Fidelity have moved in, as has Ameritrade. But we think E*TRADE is in the top tier here and holds a powerful position for growth in financial services and commerce deals with other major players in banking and financial services.