Electronic commerce companies are not the darlings of Wall Street that they were when the Internet craze was at its height.
Companies that have been focusing on secure payment mechanisms for the Internet raked in millions of dollars from eager investors in 1995 and 1996.
But now many of these organizations-including some with high profiles in the banking field-are facing harder times as losses mount and eat into capital.
"The bloom is off the rose," said Neeraj K. Vohra, an analyst at Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co., Arlington, Va. He said many of the companies that were developing Internet commerce systems two years ago "probably should not have gone public then.
"There was such strong enthusiasm over anything Internet-related ... The thinking was the Internet would save the world in a day," he said.
An Internet stock index compiled by Mecklermedia Corp. of Westport, Conn., which includes many of the "hot" companies that did initial public offerings in recent years, has declined some 18% since late December.
By contrast, the Dow Jones industrial average has climbed 22% this year, the Standard & Poor's 500 index 23%, and the Nasdaq Composite 16%.
Among the companies that have suffered most in the Internet backlash are:
Open Market Inc., which develops commerce systems for many prominent customers, including several banks. Its shares rose almost double the first day it traded in May 1996 to around $40, but is now down around $11.
Security First Network Bank, the pioneering Internet bank, did its IPO the same day as Open Market, May 12, 1996. Its share price also soared the first day, to $45, and is now just above $8.
First Virtual Holdings Inc., developer of a secure transaction system for orders placed over the World Wide Web, was priced initially at $9 in December; it sank to around $4 within four months, and now trades thinly at around $6.
Cybercash Inc., which is offering Internet equivalents of coins, checks, and credit card authorizations, was initially priced at $17 in February 1996 and rose as high as $64.75 within a few months. Disappointing revenues are behind the decline to the current $12 range.
"I don't know what people were thinking," said Michael Nemeroff, analyst at Lehman Brothers. He said investors' opinions are pretty clear: They want to see some revenues if they are going to support a company.
Analysts, too, are taking a harder look at the way electronic commerce companies are developing. Several have lowered revenue expectations.
Cybercash is one of the most obvious examples of a return to earth. Analysts generally expect around $5 million in revenues from the company this year-not the $25 million that was projected for 1997 last year.
The company is "burning up its cash and has no revenues," said one market observer who requested anonymity. "They have lot to prove in terms of the product they offer-never mind the business model."
James Condon, chief financial officer at Cybercash, said he remains optimistic about the company's future. Its slow start is more a function of slow market acceptance of electronic commerce than a commentary on Cybercash's technology, he said.
"If we had no revenues ... we'd have enough money to take us through the end of February," he said. But "we will have revenues."
Mr. Condon said Cybercash, which lost $155,000 on $9 million of revenue in its most recent quarter, has offers of additional funding. He said he would consider such propositions only if they were in the best interests of the shareholders.
Richard Crone, vice president at Reston, Va.-based Cybercash, also is optimistic about revenue-particularly given developments in electronic bill presentment.
He said the company is gradually making a case that electronic payment systems such as Cybercash's do not hurt existing relationships between banks, billers, and customers.
"Like an armored card service, we'd just deliver payments to the bank," he said.