In the olden days, before Internet stocks replaced "sliced bread" as the synonym for success, the stock market might have shrugged, even snickered, at the recommendation that Credit Suisse First Boston issued on Friday on AppNet Systems of Bethesda.
"Momentum Atomic, Stock Way Too Cheap, 200% upside," proclaimed analyst Mark Wolfenberger, who considers AppNet a sleeper among companies that create online stores for merchants that want to migrate from the mall to the Web. Predicting that AppNet shares could reach $40 within a year, the analyst added: "Never have used this phrase before, but 'back up the truck.' "
Since CSFB was the investment-banking firm that took AppNet public in June, the "strong buy" recommendation might have been dismissed.
But AppNet stock hit $40 a couple of hours after Wolfenberger's report hit the street.
The shares pulled back to $33 by the end of the day, but that was still more than double their $15.50 price the day before, making AppNet Nasdaq's biggest gainer. Almost 14 million shares were traded--more than 200 times the previous day's volume of 67,900 shares.
Defying predictions of Internet day traders that AppNet was a guaranteed "moonshot" that would soon be back in the teens, the shares are hanging in there. An additional 4 million shares traded Monday, when the stock pulled back to $30.25. Then volume fell way off, and the stock closed at $30.25 again yesterday.
"It's a shame that the stock moved that much in one day," Wolfenberger said yesterday. "When a stock doubles like that, people worry first about gravity. That's unfortunate, because if you know the stock, it's still low by comparison."
Founder Ken Bajaj formed AppNet by assembling a group of companies, each specializing in one aspect of creating and running electronic-commerce systems. AppNet not only designs Web sites but also develops business and marketing plans for companies going online. It is the fourth-largest "interactive media services" company, according to Advertising Age magazine. It also provides software packages for e-commerce stores and can run entire systems, collecting 50 cents to $1 per sale.
Wolfenberger said that is as comprehensive a service as any e-commerce creator can provide--a broader product than Proxicom Inc., the Reston company whose stock hit a record $66 a share during trading yesterday.
AppNet stock has been valued well below the shares of its closest competitors, Wolfenberger added, because AppNet was viewed as an Internet "roll-up." The strategy of consolidating a batch of smaller companies into a larger one has fallen out of favor with investors because too often it just doesn't work.
AppNet had revenue of $25 million in the quarter ended June 30, a 65 percent improvement from the previous year and a 13 percent increase from the quarter before. Sequential growth is a key measure of Internet acceleration; 13 percent a quarter compounds into 63 percent-plus a year.
The company is on the verge of becoming profitable, but like most Net stocks it is valued on a multiple of revenue.
Before the stock jumped, AppNet was trading at about 3.5 times next year's estimated revenue, while shares of its nearest competitor, iXL Enterprises, were going for more than seven times revenue and hot numbers such as Proxicom were at 16 times projected sales.
"We filled the big gap" when the stock doubled, Wolfenberger said. "But the big run-up still leaves it at the low end of the group."
CAPTION: AppNet (This chart was not available)