The Day Ahead: You'll have a cow over this B2B IPO

Moooove over VerticalNet, CommerceOne, FreeMarkets and the rest of the business-to-business crowd
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor on

There's a new B2B stock on deck and investors might just have a cow over the IPO of eMerge Interactive.

Tell you moooore? OK. For starters, the eMerge, which will launch its IPO this week, is a "business-to-business electronic commerce company combining content, community and transaction services."

Sounds good so far, especially given the performance of VerticalNet, CommerceOne, FreeMarkets and others.

But eMerge deals in cattle. Yes, cattle. How a cattle B2B company came up with a name like eMerge Interactive is beyond us. Before checking out the regulatory filings, we assumed we were in for a DoubleClick wannabe or another "me-too" offering. Instead we got livestock.

EMerge shows just how far-reaching B2B can be. Take any inefficient market and you have a niche to be a B2B player. EMerge provides cattle sales and auctions, performance analyses of a customer's feedlot operations, industry analysis, cattle inventory tools and livestock health products.

B2B is becoming a market of niches -- which isn't so bad. Chemdex and SciQuest.com have done pretty well since their IPOs.

And eMerge's revenue isn't bad relative to other B2B players. For the nine months ending September 30, eMerge reported sales of $18.5m (£11.47m) and a loss of $11m. Ninety percent of eMerge's sales derived from online cattle auctions. For perspective, VerticalNet, which reported fourth quarter earnings on Tuesday, had revenue of $10.7m for the first nine months of 1999.

In filings, eMerge said it pulls in revenue through online cattle auctions, subscription fees for its information management services and industry reports, and sales of its proprietary products.

We have no idea how big the online cattle market will be, but it's safe to say eMerge will have first moo-ver advantage. As for market projections, eMerge cites the same B2B statistic everyone else does -- Forrester Research expects B2B electronic commerce in the US to grow from $43bn in 1998 to $1.3 trillion in 2003.

EMerge's products include Cyberstockyard.com, a cattle auction site, the Feedlot Information System, an information management package, PCC-online.com, a consultant service, and NutriCharge, a feed supplement. You can find all the goodies at CattleInfoNet.com.

With B2B commerce all the rage these days, we wouldn't rule out a decent first day pop. In fact, we wouldn't be surprised if traders jumped on eMerge only to find out they bought a livestock company days later.

EMerge is offering 8 million shares. Adams Harkness and First Union Securities and FAC/Equities are the underwriters. Of the 8 million, 6.5 million are offered by eMerge and 1.5 million are being sold by existing shareholders. Safeguard Scientifics, a major shareholder of eMerge, will distribute 2.8 million shares to its shareholders at that IPO price. Internet Capital Group is also an eMerge shareholder.

Of course there are risks. EMerge has been around since 1994, but has recently changed its identity.

Its previous business revolved around sales of "a maritime navigational thermal imaging system and our equine imaging system, an infrared product used to detect injuries in horses." EMerge doesn't sell its maritime system, but does collect revenue for its horse x-ray machine.

The company changed its name from Enhanced Vision Systems, in June 1999 to reflect the new strategy.

As for eMerge's Web experience, it's also a bit light. Its cattle site launched in August 1999. "Our limited operating history, combined with our recent shift in business strategy, makes predicting our future results of operations difficult," the company said.

And then there's demand for beef. "If the demand for beef declines, the demand for our products and services would likely decline, and our results of operations would be harmed," the company said.

Never thought we'd hear a Net company worry about the demand for beef.

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