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Opera details IPO plans

The Norwegian browser maker could be the first of several high-tech IPOs for the year when it begins trading in March.

Opera is planning to begin public trading next month, the first of several high-tech initial public offerings expected for 2004.

The Norwegian browser maker released full details of its planned initial public offering, saying Thursday that it will launch on the Oslo Stock Exchange on March 11.

Opera said it will issue between 12.5 and 16.1 million new shares, making one tranche for Norwegian and international institutional investors, and one tranche for Norwegian retail investors. In addition, existing shareholders have decided to sell 11,844,900 existing shares in the transaction. The expected price range is between $1.13 (8 Norwegian kroner) and $1.42 per share, valuing the company between $27 million to $39.6 million, a pittance compared to IPOs of past.

The IPO's performance is likely to be carefully watched. It is one of the first of what could be several Internet-related public offerings planned for 2004. Coming after the IPO drought of the past years, the offering is likely to be seen as a barometer for other tech companies considering going public.

Cambridge Silicon Radio, a maker of Bluetooth chipsets, is planning to float on the London Stock Exchange next week; conditional trading in its shares began this morning. The company hopes to raise more than $111.7 million (?60m), making it the biggest tech offering on the London Stock Exchange since financial software maker Marlborough Stirling floated in April 2001.

Search engine giant Google is also said to be considering an IPO. It may go public with an unusual electronic auction method, cutting underwriting costs and distancing the company from investment banking scandals like those during the dot-com boom. And last week, application server software firm JBoss restructured itself with the injection of $10 million of venture capital money, paving the way for a possible IPO.

Opera's subscription period will close on March, 10, with the first day of trading planned for March 11, the company said. The Opera Software shares will be traded under the ticker symbol OPERA.

The privately held company's revenue comes from sales of its multiplatform Web browser, a leading product in the smart phone and PDA (personal digital assistant) markets. Mobile phone makers and network operators license the software from Opera for a fee, allowing it to be bundled with handsets or provided to users as a free download. The browser is also available on desktop platforms such as Windows, Linux and the Mac OS, both in paid-for and advertiser-supported versions.

Opera recorded revenue of $4 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31, up 108.7 percent from the same quarter in 2002. Earnings before interest and tax were $921,423.

Public offerings of Internet companies were a staple of the dot-com boom era, regularly breaking all records and handing riches over to small, often untested companies. Such IPOs are now more of a rarity.

Matthew Broersma of ZDNet UK reported from London.