The .com column in the July 22 Business section gave the wrong time frame for Odimo Inc.'s $14 million loss on $10 million in sales. Those results were for the first quarter of this year, not for all of 2003. (Published 7/23/04)
Odimo was my tip-off that Googlemania is out of control.
Never heard of Odimo? My point exactly. It is an obscure Internet jeweler that filed last Friday to sell stock to the public for the first time, even though it lost $14 million on measly sales of $10 million last year.
Read the prospectus for its initial public offering and you'll discover that the Sunrise, Fla., retailer is controlled largely by an Israeli diamond mogul, has a husband-and-wife team as its chief operating and financial officers, and is being sued by handbag designer Prada for allegedly selling counterfeit goods.
Odimo Inc. joins a crop of three dozen or so dot-coms and wireless service providers jockeying to join this year's class of new public companies. Among the 2004 would-be IPOs are comparison shopping service Shopping.com Ltd.; PlanetOut Inc., a Web service for gays; Web-based realtor ZipRealty Inc.; online liquidator SmartBargains Inc.; and Jamdat Mobile Inc., which provides games to cell phones.
While some are profitable, others are money-losers apparently hoping to ride any boomlet in the wake of the much-hyped Google Inc. stock offering. Web search star Google is planning to raise about $2.7 billion through an unusual public stock auction soon.
Already, the IPO market has revived in a big way after three years of stagnation. About 120 companies have gone public so far this year, compared with 86 during all of 2003, according to investment bank researcher Dealogic.
An additional 265 privately held companies have notified the Securities and Exchange Commission of their intention to sell stock, up from 29 this time last year.
Yet this year's IPO class is very much a buyer's market, unlike the seller's heyday of the 1990s. Few companies going public nowadays see their share prices double, as many did in the 1990s. And with share prices sliding on the Nasdaq Stock Market this summer, many new issues are already underwater from their initial offering prices.
That especially holds true for technology start-ups, which have not fared particularly well since they started creeping back into the public markets last year. Share prices for the 60 technology companies that have sold stock since January 2003 have declined an average of 5 percent, according to IPOMonitor.com, which tracks initial offerings. By comparison, the average price for all 189 companies going public during that period has jumped about 11 percent.
Only a half-dozen Internet companies have gone public this year.
Among the most successful were online diamond seller Blue Nile Inc. and online software vendor SalesForce.com. Both are profitable. Two other online software providers that have been losing money went public: Blackboard Inc. of the District and Marchex Inc. of Seattle.
But you know the market is getting frothy when Internet survey firm Greenfield Online Inc. can raise $52 million from public investors, as it did last week. The Wilton, Conn., firm eked out its first profit last year -- $1.6 million on sales of $25.8 million. Greenfield accumulated a deficit of $72 million over the past three years, yet managed to pay its chief executive $666,667 last year. How 1999ish is that?
Other marginally profitable Internet companies also are waiting to go public, along with some that have never earned a dime.
Filing last month was Interchange Corp. of Laguna Hills, Calif. Never heard of it? That might be because it has changed its name a few times.
Created in 1999 as eWorld Commerce Corp., the company rechristened itself eLiberation.com, then renamed itself Interchange Corp. The company runs a targeted search advertising network that competes with industry leaders Google and Yahoo Inc. It reported a profit of $60,000 on anemic sales of $8.7 million last year.
Also in registration is online retailer Celebrate Express Inc., which is hoping to snag the BDAY symbol on Nasdaq. The Kirkland, Wash., outfit sells party supplies from Web sites and catalogues. It recently reported its first annual profit.
Celebrate Express has been on the Web since 1996, one of several recent dot-com IPO filers that have been slaving away online for years, even as others were quitting, going bankrupt or selling out after the Internet bubble burst. Most still face stiff competition and are barely hanging on. They include PlanetOut Inc., the gay portal, which lost $752,000 on revenue of $12.7 million last year; ZipRealty Inc., the Internet real estate pioneer, which lost $4.5 million on sales of $32.6 million; and Shopping.com, which turned a nice profit last year selling advertising and helping consumers compare product prices online.
One of the weaker IPOs hopefuls may be one of the more profitable: Claria Corp. of Redwood City, Calif. The four-year-old ad network brings annoying pop-up ads to the Internet, along with spyware software to track user surfing habits. Claria earned $34.8 million on $90.4 million in revenue last year, according to its filing.
Its fat profit margin could make Claria a takeover target, suggesting it may follow Advertising.com of Baltimore, which recently sold to America Online Inc. after filing for an IPO. And in May, Symantec Corp. snapped up another IPO hopeful, Brightmail Inc., which sells anti-spam software.
If all these Internet companies sell stock this year, you can bet that the sudden supply of new Internet offerings will depress the already soft prices of technology companies even more, perhaps to the point that many hoping to cash out their original investors would come up empty-handed. Already, many recent IPOs have found demand so weak that they reduced the number of shares sold and slashed their offering prices.
"There is not a lot of investor appetite for IPOs," said Tom Taulli, co-founder of CurrentOfferings.com, an IPO research service. "Only a certain number of investors are willing to take the risk involved. Then, too, the new regulations governing investment banking are having an impact."
But if diamond retailer Odimo makes it to the public stock market, it might be time to start stashing cash under your mattress.
Leslie Walker's e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.