The Investment Column; Scoot.com

THERE COULDN'T be much clearer evidence of investors getting on and off the Internet bandwagon than the share price chart of Scoot.com, the web-based information provider formerly called Freepages Group. Since floating in 1996 at 14p, the company soared - twice - to over 50p, before crashing back last autumn to briefly touch 16p. The shares closed up 0.5p yesterday at 38p after Scoot reported a 40 per cent fall in pre-tax losses to pounds 6.7m and a disappointing 21 per cent rise in sales to pounds 10.4m. With a market capitalisation of nearly pounds 200m Scoot is trading at a hefty multiple of almost 20 times sales.

Housebroker Collins Stewart forecasts a maiden pounds 5m profit for Scoot's year to September 2001 financial year, by which time annual revenues are expected to hit pounds 50m. Those projected gains are expected to flow from a host of partnerships Scoot has entered into with some of Britain's fastest growing media companies, notably Flextech and the soon-to-launch digital TV platform of Cable & Wireless Communications, and now SkyDigital.

The arrival of these new allies coincides with a revision of Scoot's business model. Previously, Scoot received a fixed fee for listing a business in its regionally segmented databases. Henceforth, whilst it will still receive a fixed fee from service and goods providers to link them with customers, Scoot will also collect a fee for providing sales leads.

Investing in Scoot certainly isn't for the squeamish. But there's a feeling among some City folk that the company looks like one of the eventual survivors in the fast growth Internet sector. Dealers note that trading has picked up since November and that there is sufficient liquidity for the purposes of most private investors. For those wishing to introduce a share of the Internet revolution into their portfolio, Scoot is a speculative buy.

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