Don't bet the house on it - just yet
Onthehouse.com.au is the latest online offering for Australian investors with its bid to raise $55 million prior to listing on the ASX next month. In a first, the company provides market sensitive real estate information to consumers for free.

And investors, big and small, "are flocking to it", said its chairman Jim McKerlie, who in another life was managing partner at the accounting firms KPMG and Deloitte.

The investors include "a number of major media companies", which he says is why it is delaying the closure of its offering for institutions. The company is offering 55 million shares at $1, giving onthehouse a post-raising market cap of $81.5 million.

McKerlie says interest from the "mums and dads" investors is reaching fever pitch - even though the company is yet to produce a prospectus (this should be coming out in the next week or so).

The company is certainly set to shake up the opaque world of property because onthehouse is providing market data in the sector for free to anyone viewing its website. Property developers and the like are presently paying tens of thousands for data from RP Data, which is under a cash offer from New York listed CoreLogic.

Beyond the hype and the interest of media companies, it will be interesting to see how onthehouse's business model turns out.

The company is using the bulk of the float proceeds to purchase two software businesses that give it access to the data filed by real estate agents when they take deposits on houses and then put those monies into trust accounts. Estate agents pay a licence fee to use this software and the businesses generate about $20 million a year.

The real sex appeal for onthehouse, as with any online offering, is the website itself. Here the company is definitely capitalising on Australians' obsession with property. The site is generating about 1 million visits a month, of which 240,000 are new, according to McKerlie. This means that about 1 per cent of Australians are looking at the site at least once a month.

The website will generate income partly from banner ads, but mostly from referral fees (at about $30 a pop) from estate agents and other providers to the property market like plumbers, banks and insurers.

The question for shareholders is how much these businesses linked to property rely on the site - the company will definitely need a lot of pops to make its millions.


One fundie describes developments at e-pay Asia as "a case study in how to shift wealth from outside shareholders to management".

At 18¢ a share the company is a minnow with a market cap of $10 million. Yet it still generates $10.8 million in revenues, most from selling top-up services to pre-paid mobile users in Asia.

The fund manager's comment follows e-pay's announcement that an entity controlled by its founder and major shareholder, Simon Loh, is moving to purchase the business for $8.55 million in cash.

The fundie is probably annoyed for a number of reasons.

First, in 2005, the Malaysian based Loh sold his business into SkyNetGlobal, which was renamed e-pay Asia, for $28 million in stock. After the business earned $5 million in its first year, he was paid an extra $14.5 million in scrip.

Later, e-pay had a rights issue, underwritten by Loh, who picked up a further 10 million shares in addition to his entitlement and now owns almost 62 per cent.

Presumably the company did the rights issue because it said it needed the cash, but its accounts show that at the end of last year it had cash of $12.2 million and borrowings of $3.8 million.

BusinessDay was told by company secretary Robert Lees that the offer includes both the cash and the operating businesses that generated over $2.5 million in profits last year.

In January 2007 e-pay's shares were almost as high as $6, so it's easy to see why some investors are not happy with Mr Loh's offer.


The fortunes of two gold miners whose share prices have crashed in the past few days show just how different the outlook can be for companies in the same industry.

Shares in West African gold explorer Papillon Resources have fallen 33 per cent after it announced a worse than expected resource upgrade. This means the market thought it would have more gold in its mine than turned out to be the case. At 43¢, Papillon has a market cap of $82 million.

Another company which got smaller was Norseman Gold whose stock plunged 42 per cent after a production update indicated the company was nowhere near meeting its guidance on gold production. At 26¢, its market cap is now $47 million.

Both are small, but the difference says one fundie is in the outlook.

"One has scope for redemption, the other one just used up their last chance," he says.

The former is Papillon because it has other exploration projects in Mali. In contrast, Norseman has "lost a great deal of credibility", according to the fund manager: "[Management] has been saying for the past 18 months that it would execute a production plan and it has raised money to support that … now it looks as though the plan has failed."

It goes to show that on occasion there could be less risk in exploration of gold than in actually digging it out of the ground.


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