Two Northern Virginia technology companies completed their initial public offerings Friday, but they may well be the last in the Washington region to make it through the IPO window before it closes.
Online Resources and Communications Corp. of McLean, which provides electronic banking services for small banks, sold 3.1 million shares for $14, raising $43.4 million before expenses..
Network Access Solutions Corp., a Sterling company that creates high-speed business communications systems, raised $90 million before expenses by selling 7.5 million shares at $12 each.
The Online Resources stock was sold at the top of the $12-to-$14 range that investment bankers said the shares would bring.
But Network Access Solutions had said in its final prospectus that it anticipated getting $15 to $16 a share for its stock. The $12 price means it raised $22.5 million to $30 million less than it had hoped.
Difficult indeed. Even after a major rally Friday, Internet stocks were down about 10 percent last week. And since reaching highs in April, many Internet stocks now are down 30 percent to 35 percent.
Shares of America Online Inc., which has become the benchmark for Net stocks in the Washington region, picked up $12 Friday, but still ended the week down $1, at $118. AOL stock is trading 30 percent below the $167.50 high it hit in early April.
The market's harsh backhand has hit most recent Internet IPOs in the mid-Atlantic region. Setting a pattern guaranteed to intimidate investors contemplating bidding for IPOs, those stocks jumped on the first day of trading and then quickly headed south.
The only investors who made money were the favored few -- mostly institutions and longtime clients of brokerage firms. By being able to buy at the IPO price, they could flip the stocks on the first day of trading for a quick profit.
That means, of course, that the worst losses have been suffered by the investors who bought during that first day's run-up. Those losses weaken the demand for other IPOs by scaring off potential investors. And they taint the fallen stocks, making it difficult to attract buyers even at bargain prices.
Look at how the region's last four Net IPOs fared:
CAIS Internet Inc., a Washington firm that wires hotel rooms for high-speed Internet access, went public May 20 at $19 a share and rose to $22 on the first day. It closed Friday at $10.62 1/2 a share.
Careerbuilder.com Inc., a Reston online employment agency, which went public on June 12 at $13 and rose to $16 the first day. It closed Friday at $11.68 3/4 a share.
Onemain.com Inc., the Vienna-based roll-up company of Internet service providers backed by Washington financier Jonathan Ledecky, went public in March at $22 a share and hit $39 the first day. It closed Friday at $19.37 1/2 a share.
Value America Inc. of Charlottesville has been the biggest disappointment of the region's Internet IPOs. The pre-offering buzz on the electronic retailer's stock was so strong the price was increased by $1 a share at the last minute to $23, and the stock hit $55 the first day of trading. It closed Friday at $16.75 a share.
Given that pattern, it's no surprise that neither Network Access Solutions nor Online Resources got any bounce after their shares began trading Friday. By the end of the day both stocks were up just 6 1/4 cents from their offering price.
While market conditions clearly are not in their favor, the two companies are fundamentally solid businesses that have the potential to mature into profitable operations.
Online Resources has less annual revenue than Network Access Solutions, but is an older company and is further along in the process of implementing its business strategy. The company started out by working on bank-by-phone systems, but has evolved into a bank-by-computer service catering to regional and community banks and credit unions.
There are only a few dozen banks big enough to develop their own electronic banking systems, but there are thousands that would like to offer online services, founder Matthew P. Lawlor said.
Lawlor's approach is one of the most popular business innovations of the 1990s -- outsourcing. "We do everything, but the retail customer doesn't know we exist," he said.
Online Resources not only sets up the computer banking system, it runs it, collecting a fee from the banks for each of their customers who sign up for the service. That "recurring revenue model" is another 1990s trend. Rather than build and sell computer systems, entrepreneurs have figured out it can be far more lucrative to operate the system and charge by the transaction.
Lawlor said most banks give away the basic online banking service because it's cheaper than having their customers use a teller, but charge fees to customers who pay bills electronically.
As of the first of April, Online Resources had 338 bank clients, including Riggs National Corp. in Washington and First Virginia Banks Inc. in Falls Church.
There are other companies selling online banking systems to financial institutions, but Lawlor said Online Resources has a patented wrinkle: "Instead of going directly into the bank's computers, we piggyback on the regional ATM network."
When a depositor wants to pay a bill electronically, Online Resources routes the transaction from the home computer to an automated teller machine network, takes the money out of the account, as if it were an ATM withdrawal, and transfers the funds to the company that's being paid.
Over the past two years, Online Resources has invested $50 million building its computer and data networks. Now, with the infrastructure in place, it can expand its operations, Lawlor said. Much of the money from the IPO will go into marketing the service to depositors. There's plenty of growth opportunity because only one depositor in 100 conducts banking online.
Network Access Solutions is a ground-floor company in another industry that is just being born. Competing with local phone companies, it provides businesses with high-speed data communications and Internet connections using existing telephone lines and a technology known as Digital Subscriber Line (DSL).
When Jonathan P. Aust started the company in January 1995, most of its work was creating data networks for corporate clients, but in the past year it has become a specialist in DSL.
As every home computer user with a modem knows, surfing the Internet often means crawling through cyberspace because of the limited capacity of those tiny copper phone wires. A DSL system turns phone lines into a high-speed network that Network Access Solutions markets as CuNet. The network's name, pronounced "copper net," is based on the chemical symbol Cu for copper. CuNet can give customers high-speed data service for 30 percent to 70 percent less than they would pay for competing technologies, the company said.
Network Access Solutions said it expects to spend $40 million raised from the IPO to build its systems and to use the rest to cover operating losses. In its prospectus, the company warned investors that it may may have to again raise capital, a prospect that is much more likely since the IPO brought in less than expected.
The reality that an IPO in the ongoing bull market will not raise as much money as desired has been recognized by the next local Internet company in the line to go public -- Bethesda-based AppNet Systems Inc., which buys Internet consulting firms. In the first draft of its IPO prospectus, filed in March, AppNet said it hoped to sell stock worth as much as $172.5 million. The company, however, recently filed a second prospectus, reducing the size of the deal to $96.6 million.
Even that scaled-down offering looks iffy in today's rocky market for Internet stocks.
(ORCC on Nasdaq)
Network Access Solutions
(NASC on Nasdaq)
(AOL on NYSE)
(CAIS on Nasdaq)
(CBDR on Nasdaq)
(ONEM on Nasdaq)
(VUSA on Nasdaq)
A LOOK AT . . . TWO LOCAL IPOs:
Online Resources & Communications Corp.
Business: Creates electronic banking systems for small banks
Founder: Matthew P. Lawlor
Offering price: $14
Amount raised: $43.4 million
Ticker symbol: ORCC on the Nasdaq Stock Market.
Network Access Solutions
Business: Provides high-speed communications services for businesses, using existing phone lines.
Founder: Jonathan P. Aust
Offering price: $12
Amount raised: $90 million
Ticker symbol: NASC on the Nasdaq stock exchange.
Source: Bloomberg News; company reports