Crash? What, on
? Not if you ask Gil Shwed, founder and chief executive at
Check Point Software Technologies
. The stock is still going up and is trading at an almost-record high, bringing its market cap to nearly $30 billion.
The Israeli company may be an extreme case, even among the more successful technology gorillas in the United States.
are also worth far more than they were a year ago. They're also trading at insane profit multiples. Anybody else? Not really.
In his new book
The Rise and Fall of Israel's High Technology Industries
, Joel Bainerman says that the high values attributed to Israeli companies by Wall Street do not promote their greater good, since the helm of the Israeli high-tech industry has been switched to the U.S.
Well, it would seem that the American markets are taking care of the problem. Great companies are still worth a great deal of money in the U.S., but there aren't that many great companies, and the rest are, well, discovering the merciless downside of Wall Street. The Nasdaq's dive since April, even after the summer respite, dragged down many companies. Among Israeli and American companies alike, the worst hit were the smallest.
The usual explanation that investors are going for value over growth can't cut it.
at a multiple of 200 may proffer a great deal of value, but it lies in the company's growth, not in its historic performance.
Growing like a weed. And?
Check Point at a valuation of $30 billion may create cash faster than any other Israeli company in history. It also looks good against its American colleagues -- it's less than a decade old. But its massive valuation isn't a factor of the cash in its coffers; it's a function of the 80% growth it offers each year and of investor hopes that it will continue to do just that.
Investors are still prepared to pay through the nose for fast-growing companies, but they've lost their taste for dreams with little hard currency to offer. Moreover, they're also shying away from medium-sized companies with lots of rivals and no clear market.
That describes many Israeli companies, some of which can only wish they had fallen a mere 35% like Nasdaq. Take
, which is down 87% from its peak price of $59 to $7.75. BackWeb isn't a particularly bad company. It's simply an organizational software developer, growing fast -- but evidently not faster than its rivals. Next year its sales should come to $77 million, although one may doubt whether it can achieve that goal. Anyway, it isn't expected to turn a profit this year. Its implosion to a market cap of $280 million makes more sense than its rocketing to a valuation of $2 billion.
, which peaked at $70 and today trades at about $14. It isn't a leader in its field, outsourced email services. It has plenty of bigger rivals, as well as also plenty of companies about the same size. Also, as dot-coms find it harder to raise capital, they will cut back on their free email services, making it harder for CommTouch to meet forecasts.
CommTouch had been hoping to hold a second offering at $54 a share. From its dream of an $800 million valuation, it's down to $210 million. That's still a decent price for a company expected to end 2001 with an operating loss. Analyst forecasts that CommTouch will post 2001 sales of $64 million seem more than a touch optimistic.
There are other, even more cutting examples among the Israeli troops on Wall Street.
Internet Gold-Golden Lines
rushed onto Nasdaq, hitting with a bang that ended in a bust. From a market value of $500 million, it's down to barely $60 million. Now, that makes more sense for a local provider of Internet services to a limited market, a company with big losses and, mainly, little opportunity to grow.
The same is true of Rehovot-based
, which has been long on promises for years, but short on delivery. It's back to looking up at $3 a share after hitting $15 and counting at the height of the euphoria.
Then there's the whole list of new issues with little to offer but promise, exemplified by
. Problem is, nobody believes them.
The heart of Israeli high-tech may have moved to Wall Street, prodded by valuations in the hundreds of millions of dollars for companies with an alluring story to tell. But Israeli companies may be spared the need to read Bainerman. Companies with market caps in the billions are contracting to their natural size. It won't come as a surprise to find less than a dozen Israeli companies trading on U.S. markets with valuations of billions within a year, plus a bunch of esoteric firms worth $100 million to $200 each.