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The Boston Globe OnlineBoston.com Boston Globe Online / Business / Globe 100
Raising money - and hair. A trip on the wild IPO ride of 1999

By Ronald Rosenberg, Globe Staff, 5/16/2000

or most of the 36 Massachusetts companies that turned to Wall Street during the investment boom of 1999, IPO could stand for I Performed Outstandingly.

Not since 1996 have so many companies launched IPOs. Of the 36 offerings, 27 companies saw their shares climb, some reaching stratospheric heights during the 12 months ending March 31.

So strong was the IPO market that the $2.7 billion raised in 1999 nearly equals the $1.17 billion raised in 1998 plus the $1.55 billion raised in 1997 (including the $785 million raised by Boston Properties Inc. alone).

Nearly half of the 1999 IPOs in The Globe 100 saw their stock prices more than double during the recent investor ''March madness,'' when some prices reached record highs in the first half of the month before plunging as part of a market freefall that began in the last two weeks and continued into April.

The hefty winners were companies that provide Internet software tools, communications, and consulting services, and other infrastructure support services. In these firms, investors saw not so much today's bottom line, but the promise of potent future earnings.

The biggest gainer was Akamai Technologies Inc. The Cambridge provider of content-delivery services to improve Web-site speed and reliability saw its shares skyrocket, from a $26 IPO price last fall to a high of $345.50 Jan. 3, before slipping to $160.81 March 31.

Close behind was Art Technology Group of Cambridge, which went public in July at $12 a share, launched a secondary offering in November at $67.50, and then saw its stock hit a high of $213 in March before adjusting for a two-for-one stock split and closing on March 31 at $65.69.

The company develops electronic commerce software and Internet management programs for such customers as J. Crew, Harvard Business School, and Procter & Gamble Co.

''We never expected our stock to go that high, but then we have been in the Internet space for eight years never thinking we would even be a public company, only to find we were one of the hottest companies in the hottest sectors,'' said Jeet Singh, Art Technology's chairman and chief executive.

At the opposite end were some noteworthy losers - e-commerce companies that cater to consumers. Some investors found them too risky because there were few signs of near-term profitability. A trio of these online retailers never saw their stock prices rise much after they went public and then watched them drop precipitously.

They are Mothernature.com Inc., a Concord-based supplier of vitamins, supplements, and other natural health products; Smarterkids.com Inc. of Needham, which provides educational books, toys, games, and software; and Streamline.com Inc. of Westwood, which provides suburban customers with grocery delivery and other household services.

In between were more than a dozen high-tech companies whose IPO shares - fueled, in part, by day traders and hefty buying by Wall Street institutional investors - grew three- to sixfold.

One, Navisite Inc., an Internet application service provider in Andover, saw its stock fly from $14 a share in October to a recent high of $159.16 in mid-March. During the last two weeks of March, however, the combination of a two-for-one stock split announcement and the Nasdaq market's downfall left the company's share price at $60.88 on March 31.

Along with stellar stock performers were companies that raised plenty of cash, led by Sycamore Networks Inc. Its $284 million IPO was the single largest amount raised in the state last year.

Chelmsford-based Sycamore, whose founder, Desh Deshpande, had previously launched Cascade Communications Inc., a standout IPO performer of the early 1990s, rode the IPO boom better than anyone else. Sycamore's $38 share price last fall - the highest among all the 1999 IPO companies - had galloped to $199.50 by early March. On the way up, the company launched a secondary offering at $150 a share before sliding down to $129 on March 31.

Shareholders also prospered with Maker Communications Inc., now a Westborough-based developer of software to create semiconductor chips. Its shares seesawed before the company was acquired in mid-March.

Shares of Maker, which had a $13 IPO price in May, climbed to $51.50 in early July, largely on speculation that Intel Corp. was going to acquire it. When the rumors proved to be false, Maker shares plunged to the low $20s before reaching $48 in late December, when Conexant Systems Inc. of Newport Beach, Calif., announced it would buy the company.

As Conexant shares soared, Maker stock tracked closely, based on an acquisition formula that prompted Maker to hit an all-time high of $81.88 in late February. On March 13, when the acquisition closed, Conexant paid $1.3 billion in a stock-for-stock deal that valued Maker's shares at about $55 each.

The IPO boom also benefited biotechnology and medical device companies, which were largely locked out of the market in 1998.

Biopure Corp., a Cambridge developer of bovine-based bioproducts for dogs and people, raised $42 million last summer as its IPO shares nearly tripled, while Wakefield-based Implant Sciences Corp. saw its shares climb nearly 42 percent from its IPO in September.

Among the five nontechnology companies, Yankee Candle Co. of Deerfield raised the most money, $258.75 million. So far, the large maker of scented candles has not seen any appreciable growth in its stock, as investors continue to sniff out tech issues.


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