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Commerce One


dodged a bullet Wednesday. The question is, how long can the business-to-business software company keep dancing?

When Commerce One

warned Wednesday morning that it would miss revenue estimates by $28.9 million, or 15%, and was short earnings estimates by a nickel for the March quarter, its stock actually took off. That's because, compared with the

meltdown at direct competitor



, Commerce One's numbers didn't look as bad by half. The pun, of course, is intended, because Ariba said it will likely miss revenue estimates by 50%.

Commerce One's stock closed up 39 cents, or 7%, to $6 on Wednesday. It traded as high as $6.79 during the day.

But Commerce One's respite from the carnage that is presently afflicting other "pure" B2B players, like Ariba,





, has likely occurred only because of the company's strong relationship with German software giant



, which has been in place since last June. For Commerce One to emerge from B2B's ashes as an independent -- or even surviving -- company, though, it had better hope that relationship remains solid.

"It's a classic double-edged sword," says Ian Morton, an analyst with

J.P. Morgan H&Q

who rates Commerce One a long-term buy. "Partnerships in the software world are usually opportunistic at best." (His firm has done banking for Commerce One.)

On its conference call with analysts, where it broke the "good" bad news that its numbers miss was better than Ariba's, Commerce One CEO Mark Hoffman took special pains to reassure Wall Street that its relationship with SAP is strong. Speaking to the now hot area of supply chain and collaboration software, Hoffman said SAP was Commerce One's leg up in that sector.

"Our advantage there is that we've got a solution with SAP out there that I think is the best in the market," Hoffman said. "That relationship continues to be very good, and we feel very good about it going forward."

In a separate interview Wednesday with

, SAP's director of global marketing Peter Barth called Commerce One a "valuable partner of SAP." "We anticipate lots of opportunity to come," he said.

Commerce One, and its investors, had better hope SAP's tune doesn't change.

Since it nixed its acquisition of

Agile Software


earlier this week, analysts have increasingly questioned Ariba's viability as an independent company. That's largely because Ariba's B2B procurement, or Internet buying software, is perceived as a very narrow product offering. But without SAP, Commerce One is as slim as Ariba.

"The fact that the Agile deal fell apart was a negative for Ariba from a technology standpoint because they simply don't have the broader offering," says J.P. Morgan H&Q's Morton, who rates Ariba a market perform. "On the other hand, Commerce One basks in more of the supply-chain glow because of the SAP partnership." (His firm hasn't done banking for Ariba.)

And that glow, of course, has been the one to have. While Ariba will badly miss its numbers, companies that are more supply-chain and collaboration-focused, such as

i2 Technologies





and Agile, haven't been hit as hard, from a business perspective.

But as the demand for B2B marketplace and Internet procurement software has slackened, Commerce One brings a lot less to SAP than SAP brings to Commerce One.

"Commerce One is only there

in the supply-chain business because of SAP," says Douglas Augenthaler, an analyst with

CIBC World Markets

who rates Commerce One a buy. "You've got to believe that SAP is sizing this thing up and what to do with it. Do they buy Commerce One, or do they just learn a lot from it and then go on their own way?"

Both Commerce One and SAP had no comment on speculation that SAP will eventually buy Commerce One, a notion that's been in the market for nearly a year.

But Augenthaler definitely sees the relationship between SAP and Commerce One changing sometime in the future, if only for the fact that as Commerce One's stock has sunk lower and lower, it's become an increasingly smaller company. Its

market cap is now $1.1 billion, compared with SAP's $31.8 billion size.

"If you look at it, a big company with a little company, those things generally don't work," says Augenthaler. "It's a combination of unequals. SAP has such clout there, they bring the more difficult part of the solution to the equation."

Not everyone is writing this relationship off just yet.

"I think there's plenty of life left at this point," says Jon Ekoniak, an analyst with

U.S. Bancorp Piper Jaffray

who rates Commerce One a buy. Yet at the same time, he adds, "The balance of power definitely lies with SAP. Commerce One needs to make sure it continues to provide value to them with technology that will complement SAP." (His firm has done underwriting for Commerce One.)

That will likely be Commerce One's best protection from more bullets, should they come.