Capitalizing on investors' infatuation with electronic commerce, Sterling Software last week successfully launched an initial public offering of stock in a subisidiary that specializes in the technology.

Officials at the Dallas-based software developer said that stock of Sterling Commerce Inc. began trading on the New York Stock Exchange March 8. Around 12 million shares were sold at $24 each, thus raising about $288 million. Alex. Brown & Sons was the lead underwriter, with the Chicago Corp. and Bear, Stearns & Co. serving as co-managers. The underwriters have an option to purchase an additional 1.8 million shares to cover overallotments.

Officials said Sterling Software's shareholders will retain at least 80% of the subsidiary's shares

Investors snapped up the stock, and Sterling Commerce shares were trading at about $30 each on Friday.

Wall Street has seen a bevy of IPOs recently from companies that claim to have stakes in the nascent business of electronic commerce, where consumers and corporations conduct business via computers. Those investing in recent initial offerings by Internet commerce firms such as Netscape Communications Corp. and Cybercash Inc. have seen the value of their holdings skyrocket.

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