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Internet mania rockets through market

THE PHENOMENAL surge in Internet stocks roared on yesterday as GlobalNet Financial.com, a markets information provider, soared 60 per cent on its market debut, and Interactive Investor International (III), a rival financial services provider, unveiled plans for a January flotation.

Internet mania drove up many on-line stocks. Media and telecoms shares benefited from their proximity to the Internet and a spate of new web ventures. BSkyB hit an all-time high, rising 7.2 per cent to 938p after it acquired a 10 per cent interest in gameplay.com, a computer games portal.

ebookers.com, a London-based online travel company listed in Frankfurt, saw its shares rise 12 per cent to 23.38 euros after buying two German cyber-travel firms.

"Institutions are so underweight in these stocks they will bite your hand off to get a piece of the action," said a trading director with a major City firm. "Fund managers are very demoralised. They cannot rationalise any of the stock prices." The pace in the online sector was set by GlobalNet's unprecedented debut on Aim, soaring from a float value of 170p to close at 260p. The company, also listed on Nasdaq, operates websites, some linked with Freeserve, providing financial news and information.

Demand for the stock prompted Beeson Gregory, the stockbroker sponsoring the issue, to up the flotation range from 95p to 115p to 130p to 150p, and then to 155p to 185p. Freeserve invested $15m (pounds 9.4m) to acquire two million shares at prices between $1 and $2 per share in May.

Stanley Hollander, who runs GlobalNet from the top floor of a luxury Mayfair terrace, was in New York, negotiating deals. "I hope it's just the beginning," he said. "Our motto is content is king."

He said the pounds 43m raised from the issue would be used to beef up GlobalNet's IT system and acquire new content, with a view to being the number one Internet shopping centre for financial products.

GlobalNet runs Freeserve's financial news service, UK-invest.com, using its 18-strong editorial team and other outsourced content. It will offer on-line share dealing in February. Mr Hollander, who sold around 150,000 shares yesterday, still has shares and options worth pounds 2.1m at yesterday's close. Mr Hollander used to sell VCRs before working in brokerage.

III, 46 per cent owned by Conrad Black's Hollinger International, the newspaper publishing group that owns The Daily Telegraph, said it expects to float at least 20 per cent of its stock in London and on Nasdaq.

III, founded in 1995, provides share price quotes, news, fund management coverage and help for investors.

Peter Bradshaw, an analyst with Merrill Lynch, said: "Not every company is going to be a winner, but the market is treating all of them like they will be."