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Reporter&#039s Notebook: Net musings from PaineWebber&#039s tech conference

NEW YORK -- Here's the capsule version of each of the last three Internet company presentations of this week's PaineWebber conference:

-- We have multiple revenue streams.

-- We're comfortable with analyst estimates.

-- We expect to maintain historical growth rate.

-- We have seen little or no competitive threats.

Priceline.com Inc. (Nasdaq: PCLN), Multex.com Inc. (Nasdaq: MLTX), and InfoSpace.com Inc. (Nasdaq: INSP) essentially gave variations on those themes as they spoke to fund managers and other large investors Thursday afternoon, on the last day of the 10th annual PaineWebber Growth & Technology Conference. But the presenters did provide some company specifics, including:

  • Priceline.
  • Over the long run, expect gross profit margins ranging between 28 and 30 percent, and operating margins between 8 and 10 percent, executives said.

    The company, which lets people bid on airline tickets and hotel reservations, currently is seeing guaranteed offers -- all bids must be secured with a credit card -- come in at the rate of $2.5 billion a year, said Richard Braddock, Priceline.com's chairman and CEO.

    About 30 percent of those bids actually turn into sales. The website now generates more than 40,000 airline ticket sales a week, which means a sixfold increase since mid-December, Braddock said.

    Brand name recognition is also growing, the company said. A study paid for by Priceline.com indicates it's the fifth most recognized online brand, Braddock said. A separate 1,000-user survey sponsored by Priceline.com indicated that 25 million adults -- far more than have actually used the service, Braddock said -- have recommended the website to someone else. The average Priceline.com buyer has mentioned the experience to 17.8 people.

    Analysts expect Priceline to become profitable within two years. First Call's survey of seven analysts predicts earnings of 2 cents a share in 2001.

  • Multex.
  • The company's two newest products are its fastest growing ones, said Isaak Karaev, chairman, president and CEO of Multex, which provides online delivery of brokerage research.

    In less than a year of existence, Multex's research-on-demand service for investment pros has become the company's second-largest revenue generator as it now produces 21 percent of the company's total sales. And in just one quarter, the company's website for individual investors has gone from 3 percent to 9 percent of Multex's revenue.

    First quarter sales increased 85 percent sequentially, to $5.03 million from $2.71 million.

    With more than 400,000 members -- up from less than 80,000 in November -- the Multex Investor Network is adding an average of 3,000 new members a day, Karaev said. As for the company's other products, research-on-demand has more than 10,000 users; Multex Express, for distributing research to large organizations, has more than 600,000 users; and Multex Net, for institutional investors, has more than 11,000 users.

    Multex plans to expand its offerings through acquisitions, Karaev said. The company also plans to expand its sales and marketing, expand internationally, broaden its distribution partners and continue with plans to create original content.

  • Infospace.
  • Although it's been around for a few years now, the provider of content for web portals still sees little on the competitive horizon, said Naveen Jain, chairman and CEO.

    "Fortunately, we have no competitor in the marketplace, which is good, except that I still wake up at 4:30 in the morning and say, 'Who do I kill today?' " Jain said.

    Infospace, Jain said, has everything a web portal needs, including content such as white pages, directories, and address books; e-commerce applications that let portals build storefronts and sell their own items; community features like chat rooms; and communication programs such as instant messaging applications; a database to tie everything together and make all the disparate information seem like it's part of the website. And it's all proprietary.

    "Microsoft had a very narrow vision of dominating the world," Jain said. "My goal is to dominate the universe.">