Opera plans March IPO

The browser company is seeing higher revenues from sales and licences, and says a flotation will help it to compete

Norwegian browser maker Opera Software on Monday reported higher revenues and said it is preparing for an initial public offering on the Oslo Stock Exchange in March.

The privately held company's revenues derive from sales of its Web browser, available on platforms such as Windows, Linux and the Mac OS. The browser is also available for free in a version featuring advertisements, from which Opera also derives revenues.

In recent months the company has also gained popularity with a version of its browser for smartphones, or mobile phones with handheld computer functions. Mobile phone makers and network operators license the software from Opera for a fee, allowing it to be bundled with handsets or provided to users as a free download.

The company said that nine years of refinements to its browser technology and commercial business had paved the way for a public offering. "Opera has come far, and a public listing will give us more flexibility to expand our position as a leading player in the Internet arena," Opera chief executive Jon von Tetzchner said in a statement.

Opera's joint lead managers for the IPO are Enskilda Securities and ABG Sundal Collier.

Flotations of Internet companies were a staple of the dot-com boom era, regularly breaking all records and handing riches over to small, often untested companies. Such IPOs are now more of a rarity. Search engine giant Google has been considering an IPO for years, and may go public with an unusual electronic auction method, which would cut underwriting costs and distance Google from investment banking scandals like those during the dot-com boom, according to an October Financial Times report.

Revenues for the quarter ended 31 December were 28.8m Norwegian kroner (£2.26m), up 108.7 percent from the same quarter in 2002, and earnings before interest and tax were 6.5m kroner, Opera said.

Revenues for all of 2003 were 78.5m kroner, up 53.8 percent from 2002. Earnings before interest and tax for 2003 were 1.2m kroner, compared to a loss of 21.4m kroner for 2002.

In October Opera reached its first deal to include its Web browser as a default application on a smartphone, Nokia's 6600. Opera had been distributing browsers for handsets from Nokia, Sony Ericsson and others for several months, but until the 6600 deal it was up to the user to download the browser from the Web, or install it from a CD.

PalmSource, Microsoft and others make browsers that compete with Opera in the mobile market. On the desktop side, Microsoft's Internet Explorer is by far the dominant browser, with Opera, Mozilla and a few others competing for a small remaining sliver of the market.