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Internet stocks soaring to new highs

Twitter’s IPO coming as investors boost Web firms

– Internet stocks are heating up again, just as Twitter is preparing to turn up the temperature with its highly anticipated IPO.

Consider what’s happened in the past month: The once-scorned stocks of Netflix and Facebook have soared to new highs; Yahoo’s long-languishing stock has regained its vigor and surpassed $34 for the first time in nearly six years; enamored investors just poured more than $1.7 billion into secondary stock offerings by LinkedIn and Pandora Media; and Priceline.com’s stock recently broke $1,000, catapulting past its peak reached in 1999 during the dot-com boom.

“There is great demand right now to invest in companies that could be powering the future, but it’s a window of opportunity that won’t last forever,” BGC Financial analyst Colin Gillis says.

As hot as some Internet stocks are, the fervor is nothing like it was in the late 1990s when investors minted dozens of unprofitable companies with rich market values.

“The difference is that investors today are investing on value rather than on emotion and hype, as was the case in 1998 to 2000,” says Jeff Corbin, CEO of investor relations consultant KCSA Strategic Communications.

Many of today’s investors are judging Internet companies on their individual merits and prospects for growth.

“Back then,” Corbin says, “just by including the word ‘Internet’ in a company description or name gave rise to a multimillion if not billion-dollar valuation.”

Dan Appelman, 54, is a longtime investor in technology who views the current run-up in Internet stocks as a reflection of the ever-expanding role that online services play in people’s lives.

“The Internet is everywhere now, and that wasn’t the case in 2000,” Appelman says. “It has become like electricity or plumbing.”

Twitter couldn’t have chosen a better moment to join the party.

The timing proved to be ideal for recent IPOs by Rocket Fuel, a company that uses artificial intelligence software to distribute digital ads, and FireEye, a maker of computer security software. The stocks of both Silicon Valley companies nearly doubled in their Sept. 20 trading debuts.

Twitter announced plans to go public in a Sept. 12 tweet. The company last week made public its S-1 prospectus and said it wants to raise $1 billion. Most analysts expect the San Francisco company to complete the process in November or December.

Wall Street’s current infatuation with Facebook’s social network and Linked In’s online professional network bodes well for Twitter. Like Facebook and LinkedIn, Twitter runs a bustling service that relies on free content posted by its users.

With about 200 million users, Twitter is the smallest of the bunch, based on the company’s most recent disclosures about its size. LinkedIn has nearly 240 million users, while Facebook boasts nearly 1.2 billion active users.

That gap leaves Twitter more room to grow, a prospect that typically appeals to investors.

Twitter’s initial public offering will go well if it can draft off Facebook and LinkedIn, whose stocks have more than doubled in value during the past year. The Standard & Poor’s 500 index has risen 17 percent during the same period.

LinkedIn has won over investors by fueling the belief that its service has transformed the way employers find and recruit workers.

The company has also topped analysts’ financial forecasts every quarter since its IPO. LinkedIn seized on the appetite for its stock by selling as many as 6.2 million shares this month.

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