Cobalt and Be Free highlight slim IPO pickings in US

US companies are lining up to float this week -- but don't get too excited yet

Cobalt and Be Free look promising among this week's slim IPO pickings, though they pale in comparison to last week's offerings. Despite the increase in new issues expected to rush the November calendar to debut before the holidays and year 2000 dry period set in, there are only nine offerings on deck this week.

"None of this week's IPOs are defining or leading new markets, the way Akamai and Sycamore were," said Francis Gaskins of the IPO Desktop.

  • Cobalt Networks (Proposed ticker: COBT)will offer 5 million shares priced between $14 and $16 each. The company, which makes server appliances based on a tailored version of the Red Hat Linux operating system, promises to garner lots of attention.

    Though the company is still relatively small, it recently signed a deal with Gateway to co-market its products, and has considerable revenue growth. Net revenue was $13.8m (£8.6m) for the nine months ended 1 October, 1999, and $3.5m for the same period in 1998. Net losses were $13.7m and $10.5m for the same periods. Goldman, Sachs & Co. is the lead underwriter, and Merrill Lynch & Co. Robertson Stephens are co-managers for the offering.

  • Be Free (Proposed ticker: BFRE), a pay-per-click e-marketing business is the other offering that looks decent this week, Gaskins said.

    The company plans to offer 5.6 million shares priced between $8 and $10 each. Donaldson Lufkin & Jenrette is the lead underwriter for the offering, expected to debut 3 November. Hambrecht & Quist and Dain Rauscher Wells are co-managers. Be Free's revenue for the nine months ended 30 September increased to $2.7m, compared to $933m for the same period in 1998. Net loss for the nine months was $12.4m, much wider than the $2.9m for the 1998 period. The company looks good in terms of revenue growth, and "gross margins are really high -- at 85 percent for the recent quarter," said Gaskins, who considered them a good buy that's just reached critical mass.

    The company's customer base is not exactly diverse though; Be Free's largest customer, barnesandnoble.com, represented 78 percent, 73 percent and 30 percent of revenue in 1997, 1998 and the first nine months of 1999, respectively. In the first nine months of 1999, GeoCities, a subsidiary of Yahoo!, and Network Solutions,, each accounted for in excess of 10 percent of revenue. Be Free's services allow its e-merchant customers pay their marketing partners only for their individual promotions that succeed by tracking viewing, clicks and purchases.

  • Collector's Universe (Proposed ticker: CLCT), Pac-West Telecomm (Proposed ticker: PACW), Tickets.com (Proposed ticker: TIXX), Wireless Facilities (Proposed ticker: WFII), and WorldQuest Networks (Proposed ticker: WQNI) are also slated to debut.
  • ENEL Societa per Azioni (Proposed ticker: EN), an Italian electric company, and Thompson Multimedia (Proposed ticker: TMS), a French consumer electronics company are the foreign offerings on deck.

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