The air is thick with the fragrance of mid-2000. Make it out yet? It's that aromatic stench of soapy residue left behind by the burst of the dot-com bubble. To be honest, I never thought I'd sense that pale odor again. After all, while the rest of the market went into a subsequent funk, the worthy dot-com survivors thrived.
Shares of Amazon
That's important, even beyond the matters of viability and sustainability. In many ways, all we've done is train the new economy some old economy tricks. It mastered playing dead. It learned to sit on command. But what comes after the rollover?
Second-tier Internet stocks are turning the corner of profitability but they still breed a good deal of skepticism. Just because a company is out of the red doesn't mean that the next step is upside unlimited. But it's also important to understand many of these same companies have managed to reengineer their models to produce positive cash flow rather than create stepping stones until the next round of financing may have more to offer in an improving dot-com economy than Wall Street has given them credit for.
Profitability wasn't the goal. It was the starting line.
Let's go over five of these companies, all of them trading in the teens or lower.
The debt-free company is trading at a little over five times this year's projected revenues of $66.2 million. That's not cheap, but why don't you stack that up against the Yahoo! of 1997. Similar numbers. Yahoo! had $67 million in revenues and was projecting a modest profit for the following year. The company's market cap at the time was $3 billion, 10 times more expensive than what iVillage is trading for today.
Was Yahoo! expensive at the time? Well, it soared even higher before crashing badly, but the ultimate scorecard reveals that today, the search portal is a significant $30 billion company. No, I'm not saying iVillage is the next Yahoo! I hate when folks toss around such flimsy accolades. My point is only that a growing iVillage is not necessarily pricey, even after running up substantially over the past year. Between its Women.com, Substance.com, gURL.com, and iVillage content empires, it is an attractive -- and now profitable -- company catering to a core audience that commands the majority of a family's buying decisions. You have to like iVillage's chances as the world continues to flock online.
2. The Knot
While the company has 4.6 million registered users, you know the drill. This site is what jumps out of a cake at a bachelor party or shows up at your door to make a citizen's arrest at a bachelorette bash. Once the vows are exchanged, the site is history. But when you think about it, you couldn't ask for a better time to draw a captive audience. Folks getting ready to spend tens of thousands in a wedding. Couples looking for guidance in financial planning and buying their first home. You did buy that engagement ring, right? If a sponsor really wants to make a good impression on a big-ticket item, you can't beat this place.
So, if the company is drawing just over 2 million unique visitors a month and serving each one nearly 50 pages of content, guess who is the one catching the bouquet at the nuptials? The company only earned $0.05 a share last year on $36.7 million in revenues. With a quarter of its market cap in liquidity and selling for less than three times last year's revenues, maybe it's time you tried The Knot.
FindWhat's been profitable for 11 quarters in a row now. It is looking to earn $0.60 a share this year on revenues of $95 million. With nearly $3 a share in cash and smart acquisition moves, the company is going to continue to populate the Internet with text ads that benefit the content provider and the sponsor.
As a metasearch portal, Mamma combines the results of various established search engines to return the most relevant and popular destinations. The company recently sold off its billing services subsidiary, so it's now a pure play in the growing field of Web searches.
Yes, the previous quarter was peppered with a huge favorable charge, but the company still earned $0.06 a share before taxes on its own. The company now needs to prove that it can build on that by capitalizing on its search engine's popularity.
5. InsWeb -- $5.26. That's how much the company is carrying in cash and investments -- per share -- on its top-heavy balance sheet. The fact that the company is essentially trading for its greenery is the good news. The bad news? Well, you figured that there has to be a reason why it's trading so cheap, and you're absolutely right.
Selling insurance online is a tough racket. While you probably have no problem buying a book from Amazon
This is the only company in today's list that is not currently profitable. While the losses are narrowing, it won't get there until at least next year. It also lost some key sponsors last year. So, what's there to like here?
A couple of years back, I wrote favorably about ARTISTdirect (OTC BB: ARTD) on this very premise. It was an online music specialist trading at a significant discount to its greenbacks. What did the company do? It trashed its money mattress the way Keith Moon took to his drum sets. It squandered its funds by launching its own record label and now the stock trades for jukebox pocket change. InsWeb hasn't done that. If anything, it has done the opposite by preserving its capital and focusing in areas that will prosper as online usage grows.
Yet, that's what all five of these companies have in common. They have time on their side. With sparkling balance sheets and sustained profits -- or at least enough cash for the next few years -- it's just a waiting game until one or more of them stumble forward towards ubiquity. So heave a goal their way, but make sure you throw it far enough. It's the only way that these new economy pups will ever learn how to fetch.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Aristotle Munarriz really does have a soft spot for obscure Internet companies, but he doesn't own any of the ones mentioned in this article. He recognizes the risks here. These aren't established companies like Amazon and eBay that have been winning holdings in the old Motley Fool Portfolio and continued their runs as successful recommendations in Motley Fool Stock Advisor . Rick's stock holdings can be viewed online, as can the Fool's disclosure policy .