Shares of VerticalNet Inc. jumped 184% Thursday in their first day of trading, much to the delight of the community institution that gave the Internet company its first loan.
Two years ago, Progress Bank in Blue Bell, Pa., received warrants for shares in VerticalNet as part of its agreement to lend to the start-up. The $650 million-asset thrift has arranged similar deals with about 25 high- tech customers.
Progress has warrants to buy 19,000 VerticalNet shares at 76 cents per share, 28,400 shares at $3.51 per share, and 21,000 shares at $16.
Horsham, Pa.-based VerticalNet, which operates business-to-business Web sites, closed at $45.375 per share Thursday, up from its opening price of $16.
Analysts estimated that even if the stock returns to its initial public offering price, Progress could add at least 10 cents per share to earnings before taxes by simply exercising its warrants six months from now and selling the shares.
"Progress could be the cheapest way to play the Internet sector," joked Cassandra Toroian, research analyst at Ryan, Beck & Co. in Livingston, N.J.
Progress' own stock, like that of many thrifts, has stumbled of late. It is trading at around $15, down almost 30% from its 52-week high. But Ms. Toroian said that could change as more investors realize the potential of the thrift's technology niche.
With a couple of IPOs, "the market is going to have to start waking up to this company," she said.
More IPOs could be forthcoming. W. Kirk Wycoff, the thrift's president and chief executive officer, said two other Progress customers could go public this year.
He added that the VerticalNet offering, and others that follow, should prove to a somewhat skeptical investment public that Progress' strategy of courting these high-risk start-ups can be a success.
"This demonstrates that even a small bank can be a dominant player if you get the right people and pick the right niche," Mr. Wycoff said.
Progress' contract with VerticalNet requires the thrift to wait six months from the IPO to exercise its options. After that, the thrift can either sell the shares for an immediate profit or hold on to them.
Mr. Wycoff said he has not yet decided which he will do.
"For now, we are going to cheer for VerticalNet," he said. "We think this is just the beginning of their story, and we want to keep growing with them."