A surge of deals by European Internet companies could provide an opportunity to investment banks looking to break the stranglehold of the top three institutions in tech banking: Credit Suisse First Boston, Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, and Goldman Sachs Group Inc.
J.P. Morgan & Co., for one, is hoping its well-established European franchise will give it an edge in cornering the equity-raising needs of Continental dot-coms. It has just hired a London-based research analyst to focus on Internet companies.
Late last week, Morgan led a $61.2 million first-time equity offering for ebookers.com PLC, a London-based travel Web site. The stock was listed on Germany's Neuer Markt -- which is similar to the U.S. Nasdaq, where ebookers.com also listed American Depositary Shares.
A testament to investor appetite for Internet offerings, ebookers.com rose 48% on its first day of Nasdaq trading, to $26.63, from $18.
"We expect quite a few (European Internet) initial public offerings next year," said George Garafas, a technology analyst at Nomura Securities International Inc.
So far, though, Europe has not been a hotbed for issuance, especially compared to the windfall of such offerings in the United States.
So far this year, only 14 European companies have done initial public offerings, totaling $835.9 million. In contrast, 172 U.S. Internet-related companies have gone public this year -- there were 26 in June alone -- raising $13.8 billion, according to Thomson Financial Securities Data.
Despite expectations for a greater number of first-time offerings from Europe, bankers are not predicting a repeat there of the 1999 U.S. market.
"Europe is in the same place the United States was three years ago," said Andrew Wilson, J.P. Morgan's co-head of equity capital markets and syndicate. In 1996 there were 32 Internet IPOs totaling $1.3 billion in the United States.
Although many investors are viewing Europe as the next big growth area, factors like less venture capital will probably keep European IPO activity from reaching U.S. levels, he said.
However, bankers expect IPOs in Europe next year to tap U.S. investors regularly.
European Internet companies "either want to do a listing in the United States or in Germany's Neuer Markt, which is seen as the cutting edge," said Nomura's Mr. Garafas. Companies with original business plans -- rather than those that virtually copy a successful U.S. Internet firm -- or that have a product sold directly into the U.S. market are more likely to seek a U.S. listing, he said.
Besides ebookers.com, only a handful of other European Internet companies have opted to list on a U.S. exchange. QXL.com PLC, a web-based auction site similar to eBay Inc., raised $90 million in a European offering in early October by listing on the Nasdaq and on the London Stock Exchange. That followed a $417 million offering by Internet access provider Freeserve PLC on the same exchanges.
Credit Suisse First Boston, the No. 2-ranked Internet IPO underwriter in the United States, was the lead underwriter for both issues.