E-Loan Inc., riding high on its strong Wall Street debut, has announced plans to expand into the global mortgage market.
The company said last week, just two days after a huge rise on the Nasdaq market from its initial offering price, that it would establish entities in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand through a partnership with eVentures, a Softbank Corp. company. Each partner would hold a 50% stake.
The Dublin, Calif., on-line company last month announced a partnership with Group Arnault of Paris to start E-Loan Europe, with E-Loan Inc. owning 85%. The company also has a deal with Softbank, Japan's No. 1 software distributor, to market mortgages on-line in Japan and Korea. It has a 40% interest in that venture.
Despite last week's Fed rate increase, which would normally impede mortgage lending, E-Loan's share price has been rising steadily since June 29 when it raised $49 million in its initial public offering at $14 a share. The IPO was led by Goldman, Sachs & Co., and the stock closed at $63 a share this Tuesday.
This was an unexpected showing. E-Loan had postponed the offering earlier last month, and its target price range was cut to $9 to $11 a share, from $11 to $13.
James Punishill, an analyst at Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass., said this is the perfect time for E-Loan to gain international status and rapidly build volume.
"E-Loan has just generated this incredible amount of money-what else are they going to do with it?" Mr. Punishill said. "They have a unique advantage working with Softbank, which is working with on-line brokerage E- Trade, which has already been penetrating all these global markets."
Critics have said investors were pricing E-Loan's stock as a pure Internet play but must keep in mind that it is still a mortgage company and susceptible to interest rate fluctuations. Mr. Punishill said this is precisely why the company should go international.
"Going global is better because they are not limiting themselves to one country's interest rates," Mr. Punishill said. Regarding the pricing of its stock as a pure Internet play, he asked: "Is E-Trade just a brokerage? Is Amazon.com just a bookstore? There are 150 brokerages, but let's face it, after E-Trade and the top 10, who else matters?"
Richard Beidl, senior analyst at Tower Group, the Needham, Mass., research and consulting firm, said that E-Loan's model would be easy to roll out but that it remains to be seen how adaptable it will be in international markets.
"Mortgages are very much a national business with very little overlap from one country into another," Mr. Beidl said. "Even when Countrywide expanded into the U.K. earlier this year, it was as a subservicer, not a direct entrant. Japan and Korea are going to be tough markets because there is still a lot of wariness about consumer and residential lending in the current environment."
Mr. Beidl said a company such as E-Loan could promote pan-European lending, and he said its expansion is not likely to peter out, because it uses the Internet as its delivery system.
"E-Loan is probably already responsible for many of the banks' getting on the Internet, mainly because they did not want to be left behind," Mr. Beidl said.
eVentures, which is investing $22.5 million in the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, is based in London. Epartners Capital Ltd., which is contributing half the founding capital to eVentures, was formed by News Corp. in April as an investment vehicle.
Softbank Corp. has investments in various Internet companies, including E-Loan, Yahoo!, and E-Trade.