Netscape's Ipo

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Executive Summary

Netscape Communications Corporation is often credited with launching the dot-com era and technology boom of the late 1990's and making the Internet and World Wide Web (WWW) common household terms and services. This era is coined the "Information Revolution", since the Internet and WWW was integrated into our modern culture and society during that time. In 1995, Netscape, an early leader and innovator in the Internet and WWW software and web browser market, had been going through the initial public offering (IPO) process. Specifically, on August 8, 1995, Netscape's lead IPO underwriters recommended to the Netscape board to increase the initial offering price to $28 per share from $14 per share, a 100% increase. At this new offering price, the firm's value would be $1 billion, raising many eyebrows since their 1995 revenues to date were only $16 million, the firm was only 16 months old, and they had not yet shown a profit. The question remained: what was the required yearly revenue growth rate to support a firm value of $1 billion and the IPO price of $28 per share?

A net present value analysis was performed for the time period 1995-2005 using current 1995 income statement and balance sheet data for Netscape. Pro forma cash flow projections were made through 2005, and a terminal growth rate of 4% was used for 2005+. A discount rate of 12% was employed to discount the future cash flows to present day. Other assumptions were made on capital expenditures, depreciation, operating expenses, research and development (R&D) expenses, and cost of revenues to be similar to Microsoft as a proxy. The net result was that a yearly revenue growth rate of 50.89% was required to support the firm value of $1 billion and the IPO price of $28 per share.

Significant concerns for Netscape moving forward are the sustainability of their business model and competition. Microsoft has plans to release the new Windows 95 operating system with an integrated web browser in 1995 and a line of web server software applications in 1996. A web-browser seamlessly integrated with the operating system and other application software would be more attractive to most non-technical business or individual users. Netscape has a very narrow product line, whereas Microsoft has a more diversified software product line. Market share of the web-browser market would be gained or lost based on what the emerging Internet Service Providers (ISPs) used as their default web browser.

As a Netscape executive or Netscape investor, I would likely recommend to accept the new $28 per share IPO price, knowing even at that price, the shares are still probably underpriced, but particularly knowing they are oversubscribed. Oversubscribed new issues in high demand but short supply should develop a premium on price per share when trading opens. The rapid adoption of Netscape Navigator and other Internet related software applications has created an optimistic outlook for rapid growth and future development of the Internet. Given the hype surrounding the IPO and this very optimistic market, I would enjoy a run-up in share price to profit from the underpriced new issue. As a fund manager, I would still recommend a buy and hold strategy even at $28 per share for the same reasons: to take advantage of underpricing and profit from the run-up in market price after trading opens.

The Problem

In August 1995, Netscape Communications Corporation was in the final stages of an initial public offering (IPO). On August 8, the lead underwriters for Netscape's IPO, Morgan Stanley and Hambrecht & Quist (H&Q), proposed to Netscape's board a 100% increase in the initial offering price from $14 to $28 per share. The problem in this case is to determine how to value Netscape Communications Corporation as a company, since the company had only existed for 16 months and had yet to be profitable. There is limited financial data for the firm for a...
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