HP backs trade exchange developer

Hewlett-Packard Australia has entered a technology partnership with World Trade Online Holdings Limited (WTOHL), which has developed an online trading exchange for import, export and logistics industries. Under the terms of the deal HP will provide WTOHL with finance and equity provisions worth $US6 million to support the roll-out of the exchange, which will provide SMEs with an international trade platform to buy and sell goods over the Internet.

Dr John Hewson, chairman of WTOHL, said the exchange service uses a multilateral exchange model based on multiple criteria that allows the buyer and seller to set the terms of trade and then buy or sell products online. The service also has a reverse exchange facility that allows services providers to monitor the bid/buy process and then offer their services to the buyer or seller.

"WTOHL is not just another dot-com," Hewson claimed. "This exchange model is based on traditional trading methods and principles. We have simply re-engineered the traditional export/import process to deliver a more streamlined export/import service to business, which will significantly lower costs and improve process efficiencies."

Adacel buys BrightStar subsidiary

E-business software developer Adacel Technologies has agreed to buy BrightStar IT, which is the Australian subsidiary of Californian company BrightStar Information Technology Group. BrightStar IT provides consulting and integration services for e-business and generates revenue of about $A30 million a year.

Silvio Salom, managing director of Adacel, said the acquisition will cement Adacel's position as a full service e-business provider. "BrightStar IT will provide us with a strong national distribution base for our products and services, an extensive market presence, and an established customer base of blue chip clients," Salom said. "This will largely remove the need for Adacel to invest in developing its own national network as well as adding additional earnings in its own right."

Pink Elephant swallows online services groupDutch services company Pink Elephant has taken a controlling interest in Australian e-business services supplier Viper Communications Group as a first step in a regional expansion. A spokesman said the deal is a key part of a strategy to increase Pink Elephant's speed of growth in the region through mergers and acquisitions.

Initially the two companies will operate as separate entities, although they intend to leverage from each other's core competencies. They are also examining opportunities to market Viper's Web site building and management tools internationally.

"As e-services become more critical for businesses we need broader expertise and infrastructure," explained Bert Heskes, managing director of Pink Elephant Australia. "Fully outsourced, fully integrated e-solutions is obviously a very strong proposition and Viper gives us the ability to offer them to our clients."

Keycorp and card giant work on smart cardKeycorp and MasterCard International have agreed to work together on the introduction of a multi-application smart card. "Together with Keycorp we are able to introduce an option that is cost-effective and comprehensive for our members," explained Art Kranzley, senior vice president of global e-business with MasterCard. He added that MasterCard expects 15 million of the new cards to be rolled out worldwide by 2003.

The smart cards will initially be based on a 16-bit chip with the MULTOS 4 operating system developed by Keycorp. A 32-bit version will be available next year on a variety of semiconductor platforms, including Infineon and Philips. A MasterCard credit/debit application and Public Key Infrastructure application will be loaded on the ROM portion of the chip and a co-processor will support RSA encryption. The chip is expected to sell for less than $US3.

At an extraordinary general meeting this week the shareholders of Keycorp approved the sale of a controlling interest in the company to Telstra for $A425.7 million, and the acquisition of the Commonwealth Bank's share in an EFT joint venture for $A3.6 million in cash and 220,055 Keycorp shares valued at $A11.

Business briefs

Pharmaceutical and healthcare company FH Faulding & Co has bought the Amfac POS pharmacy systems and the Healthlinks Internet portal from IMS Health. A spokesman said the Amfac systems have about 1700 users in Australia. "Practical business information systems and data access are integral parts of building a more competitive pharmacy industry. These systems will enable us to maximise new opportunities to improve patient care," claimed David Murphy, CEO of Faulding Healthcare.

Manage IT Group has entered a reseller agreement with US company Citadon that will allow it to provide the ProjectNet online workplace to the Australian construction, resources and engineering industries. A spokesman said ProjectNet provides collaboration and workflow tools to securely manage projects via a shared extranet site. Citadon and Manage IT will tailor the software for the Australian market, and Manage IT will provide sales, support, training and consulting services in Australia.

Sigtec, a Victorian company that specialises in wireless computer dispatch systems, telematics and GPS location technology, has attracted a $A3 million investment from SME Growth and a further investment of $A4.5 million from St George Bank, via its Nanyang Ventures fund manager. A further $A4 million is expected from "a major Australian financial institution" in the near future. The funds will be used to boost marketing of the T8030 taxi dispatch system, to begin marketing the Transcend dispatch and telematics system, and to accelerate development of a new GPS technology.

Telecom New Zealand has confirmed that it is interested in buying Cable & Wireless Optus's mobile telephone arm. "Telecom sees the CWO situation as one of various opportunities for expansion as part of our broader Australasian strategy," explained Theresa Gattung, chief executive of Telecom.

After asking its auditors to conduct a review of business operations, IT&e has revised its results for the September quarter. Revenue was lowered slightly to $A14,586,796 and EBITDA was restated from $A911,671, to a loss of $A339,488. In the past four weeks IT&e has frozen all expenditure on non-core activities and laid off 11 staff. It has also decided to either sell or close the Microarts PC business. In the wake of the auditors' review IT&e's CFO Andrew Rettie has resigned. Non-executive director Matthew Brown is standing in until a replacement can be found.

Corporate quarters

Amid the gloom over the US technology sector has come a touch of brightness in the form of Oracle's second quarter results. The company lifted net profit 62 per cent from $US384 million to $US623 million while raising revenue from $US2.3 billion to $US2.7 billion. Sales of applications rose 66 per cent to $A279 million and database software sales increased 19 per cent to $US775 million. "Our applications business is strong and getting stronger," noted Larry Ellison, Oracle's CEO.

Struggling Canadian software developer Geac Computer lost $US37 million in its second quarter when revenue slipped from $US155.9 million 12 months ago to $US133.4 million. The poor performance was attributed to weak enterprise application sales and longer decision-making cycles.

Linux specialist Red Hat reduced its third quarter loss from $US5.35 million a year ago to just $US899,532. Revenue for the quarter jumped from $US10.5 million a year ago to $US22.4 million. The company believes it is on track to profitability.

Internet investor CMGI lifted revenue 184 per cent to $US366.1 million in its first quarter to October 31. The company's net loss was reduced from $US142.8 million a year ago to $US74.0 million. However, after accounting for a range of costs the loss blew out to $US636.6 million.

The Rust Gloomo-meter over the US

The pace of gloom quickened in the US this week as some of the very biggest players began to issue serious performance warnings. At the top of the pile was Microsoft, which warned that revenue and profit in its second quarter will be up to six per cent below previous expectations. Revenue is now expected to be between $US6.4 and $US6.5 billion while a year ago revenue was $US6.1 billion and net profit was $US2.4 billion. Microsoft only added to the gloom when it also announced that its estimates for revenue and profit for the remainder of this financial year will also be reduced.

The gloom didn't lift one iota when Compaq also warned that its fourth quarter revenue would be between eight and 10 per cent lower than market expectations, while earnings will be eight cents per share below estimates. Revenue of between $US11.2 billion and $US11.4 billion will be about seven per cent above the previous fourth quarter but below market expectations of $US12.3 billion. The slip was blamed on a general softness in consumer confidence in North America, a weak Euro and the dot-com meltdown.

Advanced Micro Devices then waded into the gloom with a warning matching that issued by its arch rival Intel last week. AMD said its earnings per share could be as low as 50 cents, which is 30 per cent below analysts' estimates. Fourth quarter sales are expected to be flat at around $US1.2 billion.

With companies standing up to announce their own problems it was little surprise that some observers began expecting the worst from companies that had as yet said nothing. Sun was a case in point, forcing CEO Scott McNealy to deny that there were problems or that there had been irregularities in Sun's accounting procedures.

"But you should look at the adjustment against really aggressive baselines"Michael Capellas, Compaq CEO.

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