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Thursday, October 7, 1999 Published at 19:38 GMT 20:38 UK

Business: The Company File

QXL shares modest rise on debut

QXL shares will be the thing being bought and sold from Thursday

Shares in Internet auction house QXL ended its market debut only slightly up on its offer price, after an early sharp jump.

Shares closed at 207p after just two hours of trading, valuing the company at £279m.

Simultaneously floated on the London Stock Exchange and New York's technology-heavy Nasdaq, its shares debuted at 227.5p, a 16% premium to the offer price of 195p.

However, the price fell back again to stand at 216p within minutes of the float, and by the close in London the premium was reduced to 6%.

Despite concerns that Internet stocks were going out of fashion, the public offering of stock was eight times oversubscribed.

The successful listing, the third major UK Internet flotation, means the company has raised £54.6m before costs and expenses.

Simultaneous trading

QXL members who applied for the retail offer in the UK will each receive 256 shares. A further one million shares have been allocated to suppliers and associates of QXL.

Trading began simultaneously at 1430 London time (1330 GMT) on Nasdaq and in London.

QXL's valuation has been halved since it was first mooted, mirroring falling Internet share prices around the world.

The first, and biggest, UK internet flotation was that of Freeserve.

There was great excitement in the City at the prospect of shares in the UK's biggest Internet Service Provider and many Freeserve customers scrambled to buy shares.

At the launch price of 150p, they were 30 times oversubscribed. An initial surge saw the shares leap 37% on day one.

Anyone lucky enough to be allocated a slice of the stock was able to pocket an instant fat profit. The share price peaked at 244p on 2 August.

But then as the company reported continuing losses, shares began to plummet and hit a record low of 135p nearly two weeks ago before creeping back above the flotation price.

Freeserve threat

The second-largest Internet flotation went the same way as the first.

Within minutes of trade opening on 6 August, the price of shares in Internet-based financial services firm eXchange Holdings rocketed more than 10%, from 200p to 226p.

But as interest fell away, so did the price. Shares dropped in the first month of trading to significantly below their offer value.

QXL shareholders will prefer to look across the Atlantic at American auction site eBay whose shares, since flotation, have risen from $8.43 to a high of $234.

The company makes profits easily: its overheads are low, as it brings buyers and sellers together but does not actually handle merchandise.

But even eBay shares can react to the threat of competition. On the announcement of rival auction site FairMarket, eBay shares tumbled $8.44.

In the UK Freeserve has said it plans to move into the online auction business - which could provide some stiff competition.

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