Network Associates ( NET) is switching to the Big Board today in a move the security-software company hopes will attract more international investors. Network Associates, which traded under the ticker NETA on the Nasdaq, will carry the ticker NET on the New York Stock Exchange. CEO George Samenuk will ring the opening bell at the NYSE with Oakland Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice, whose team's stadium is sponsored by Network Associates.
In a statement, Samenuk said the switch would expose NA's stock to a larger pool of international investors. A bigger investor base, in turn, could translate to higher demand -- and price -- for the stock, acknowledged Kelly Blough, Network Associates' vice president of investor, government and community relations. The move means little to analysts, however. "It doesn't make any difference to me," said Israel Hernandez, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, who rates the stock a strong buy. Lehman Brothers has done banking business with Network Associates. The move to the NYSE follows a turnaround year for Network Associates, which sells the majority of its security products to the business market. In a year that saw the Nasdaq drop 14.9%, shares of NA were trading for $4.18 at the beginning of the year and were selling at nearly $26 by the end of 2001, a six-fold increase. If anything, Network Associates' move may highlight its sometimes ambiguous distinction from its Internet boom-era spinoff, McAfee.com ( MCAF). McAfee.com, which went public at the end of 1999, will continue to trade on the Nasdaq Stock Market. Network Associates, based in Santa Clara, Calif., is still the majority owner of McAfee, with a 76% stake. But with different business models, the two companies offer different things to investors, as a recent sharp decline in McAfee stock demonstrated. McAfee.com, which sells security software primarily to consumers over the Internet, is a higher-growth company than its parent and consequently riskier. "The stock has been particularly volatile," Jonathan Feeney, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston, said of McAfee. "The market's appetite for growth stocks -- for growth as opposed to value -- alternates back and forth, sometimes pretty violently." McAfee shares have lost about 60% of their value since reaching a 52-week high of $42.69 on Jan. 9. Last week, shares plummeted 22% on Wednesday for no discernible reason. That was on top of a 28.5% decline Jan. 17 after the company said it collected only 125,000 subscribers in the fourth quarter, which was down from 200,000 in the third quarter. Still, McAfee boasts something a lot of other dot-coms didn't have: profits. The company forecast pro forma earnings in 2002 would as much as double -- to 25 cents to 28 cents on revenue expected to increase as much as 45% -- to between $80 million and $90 million, compared with 2001. Even according to generally accepted accounting principles, McAfee still earned 2 cents a share in the fourth quarter. Network Associates forecast it would earn 42 cents to 47 cents a share on pro forma profit on revenue of $860 million to $890 million, excluding McAfee. That's compared with earnings of 15 cents a share on $772 million in revenue in 2001. Samenuk came in after the departure of CEO Bill Larson, whose reign included an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into R&D writeoffs that ultimately forced the company to restate 1998 earnings and prompted more than a dozen shareholder lawsuits. Samenuk, previously in charge of IBM's Asia/Pacific efforts, has targeted international sales as a source of growth, and set a goal of increasing international sales until they equal U.S. revenue. Last year, international sales accounted for 35% of revenue, Blough said. Rumors of Network Associates pulling McAfee back into its fold have circulated in the past but the prospect now looks unlikely, analysts say. "McAfee has a much higher valuation on a P/E basis than Network Associates," noted Feeney. Buying McAfee at a higher multiple than Network Associates wouldn't go over well, especially given that Network Associates has issued bonds to raise more capital.