BERLIN -- It appears timing
, is a leading online finance player in Germany, Europe's largest Internet market. More impressively for a net company, however, it has been profitable since 1998. Nevertheless, some observers think the brokerage's initial public offering set for June 5 may be too little, too late.
When news leaked that Commerzbank was hoping to garner 25 to 32 euros ($22.34 to $28.59) per share for the 20% stake of Comdirect it is floating, reaction from the market was underwhelming. The feeling among potential investors was that Comdirect had waited too long to go public, especially because the offering follows last year's successful IPO of the firm's main domestic rival,
ConSors Discount Broker
With enthusiasm for Internet-related issues waning this spring, and ConSors successfully building up a pan-European operation, Commerzbank likely could end up collecting less than it had hoped for the approximate 28 million shares it is expected to float. But Comdirect still shouldn't have too much trouble finding investors when bookbuilding (the bidding process that eventually determines the price investors will pay) begins on Tuesday. The company has solid financials and a strategic holding by Europe's largest Internet service provider,
, which should add buoyancy to its share price.
While not immediately planning a U.S. listing, Comdirect's size and importance eventually may help the
stock make its way into funds such as the
( UMINX)Excelsior International Fund and the
Montgomery International Growth Fund
With about 400,000 customers, Comdirect claims to be Germany's largest discount broker. ConSors is just behind domestically, but internationally, Comdirect's rival has used the proceeds of its IPO to set up a series of online brokerage operations across Europe over the past year. Should Comdirect price at 32 euros, the IPO would bring in some 900 million euros to the company's coffers to help it try to catch up abroad.
Comdirect also has a formidable ally:
( DT) Internet unit T-Online. This spring, T-Online announced it would take a 25% stake in the online broker, providing Comdirect with a sizable chunk of capital and, perhaps more importantly, direct access to T-Online's rather sizable client base.
Still, some observers think that despite the positive fundamentals, Comdirect would be too pricey should Commerzbank attempt to price the IPO near the top end of the expected bookbuilding range.
"Essentially, the company has good prospects,
but we think 25 euros, supposedly their bottom level, would be the absolute top limit," says Volker von Kruechten, an analyst for
in Frankfurt. Compared with its competition, such as ConSors, von Kruechten believes Comdirect isn't worth more than a 3.5 billion-euros market capitalization. And that's not even considering that "ConSors is expensive at current levels as well."
The bookbuilding range still can be lowered. But had Comdirect gone public last year, investors probably would have been more eager to snap up the shares at any price. ConSors apparently knew when to go to the market and now already has a sizable footprint across the Continent to show for it.