Thanks to the tech-heavy American bellwether, all those Japanese market mavens who were touting the Net as a way to make a quick yen look like hucksters. Investor confidence has eroded. Most of the stocks trading on the
Tokyo Stock Exchange's
board are trading through their IPO prices.
cybermall that debuted last week, slipped below its offer price on the first day of trading. If whiny Canadian chanteuse
wants to contemplate irony, she should consider the English translation of the company's name. It means "Paradise Market."
And yet things are looking a little better.
Earlier in the week,
said pretax profits for the year ending March 31 surged 420%. Its shares jumped more than 20% in just two days, although they're still well off the highs that vaulted them above 100 million yen -- nearly $100,000 -- a share back in January. This, in turn, boosted shares of
, which owns 51% of Yahoo! Japan. That Softbank -- which, through a U.S. unit, owns a stake of
, publishers of this Web site -- traded at all has many heartened. For much of the month its shares have been ask-only.
Still, the market has to get past two key events next week before it is seen as stabilized. At the top of the calendar is
earnings announcement Monday. Few will be surprised when the firm announces it lost a lot of money in the half ended Feb. 29. The company has already indicated that it will be in the red, which has helped the stock crater 88% over the past two months.
Investors are looking at Hikari to see whether it has changed its business strategy, a cocktail of cell-phone retailing and Internet incubating. If the firm fails to impress, Hikari officials better be ready to see how investors react when they are really angry.
And on Friday,
will offer 9.7 million shares when it jumps from the
market to the
Tokyo Stock Exchange's
first section. Net investors are counting on Oracle Japan's successful jump into the big leagues to kick-start a much-needed rally in other Net shares.
There's a lot going for Oracle Japan because its parent,
, is the world's leading supplier of database administration software and controls about 60% of the market for Unix-compatible software products. The Japanese unit has sales arrangements with about 260 Japanese computer and system builders, and that will likely boost fiscal 1999 profits by about 30%.
The prospect of a decent offering is in the cards, yet there are problems. First, the stock currently trades 556 times its earnings, a lofty valuation that surely will cause some investors to scoff. The performance of Hikari shares also could dampen Oracle's offering, and who knows how the Nasdaq will perform next week?
"The Japanese Net community has yet to create a CEO with experience in management and corporate governance. So unless management and investors get educated, liquid markets for Net firms won't emerge either," says Joichi Ito, president of
, a net incubator here.
Ito, who actively advises government officials and market players about the Internet business besides running his own firm, suggests Japanese Net firms will have to grow up a bit more -- possibly under the guidance of tough venture capitalists who will teach them a thing or two about business and shareholder value -- before going public.
"Japanese Net firms should take more time to build their company into a real business before having an IPO. I see more volatility for the next two years, and if things don't calm down after that, you'll be seeing the Japanese planting potatoes again," he says.