No Slowing Europe's Rush to the Web

PARIS/FRANKFURT, Germany — The beating dot-com start-ups have taken on global stock exchanges in the last three months has not stopped the rush to the Web across most of Europe, especially in markets such as Germany and France.

What is notable, analysts said, is the Internet growth of established brick-and-mortar companies and the creation of business-to-business platforms among automobiles, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and other major industries.

Manufacturers of construction materials in the United Kingdom, Germany and France last month planned to set up the world's largest electronic marketplace in their industry.

Partners in the venture include Lafarge, a French cement manufacturer, the Heidelberger Zement AG and two British concrete-for-transport companies, RMC and Hanson.

The goals are lower costs and higher sales.

Germany's Commerzbank announced plans for a financial services portal only days after efforts to merge with Dresdner Bank failed. The German financial institution plans a joint venture with four other European banks — the Royal Bank of Scotland, the Spanish Banco Santander Central Hispano, Italy's Sanpaolo Imi and the Societe Generale, a major French bank. Each bank plans to take a 20 percent stake in the portal.

All five banks plan to compete on the same Web site for business enterprises and institutional investors.

“Customers will be able to compare the products of five banks at a glance,” said Peter Pietsch, spokesman at Commerzbank.

In the Netherlands the ABN Ambro Bank and KPN, the privatized Dutch telecom, plan to launch another online financial service to be called “Money Planet.”

The venture will be limited to Europe with the initial focus on Germany and the Benelux countries, which are Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg. Over the next two years the combine plans to invest 150 million to 200 million euros ($145 million to $190 million USD).

The two Dutch partners estimate that the European market for financial services is worth about 84 billion euros ($80 billion USD). They expect the venture to turn a profit in Benelux and Germany within four years.

The Kirch Group, one of Germany's largest media players with vast pay TV and film library holdings, is set to reveal its Internet plans this month. They have been in preparation for more than a year.

The portal will draw on the massive content available in Kirch's media properties that range from up-to-the-minute business news courtesy of newschannel n-tv to major league soccer games carried on other group channels.

Kirch does not plan to charge access fees to the various services offered online, at least not initially, and is said to have budgeted for losses of 100 million deutsche marks ($50 million USD) over the next five years.

Nor has financing of dot-coms dried up entirely, especially not for companies with a clear profit focus and a product likely to make money. Some recent examples: a Danish health service site and a French flower site.

Netdoktor, Copenhagen, Denmark, first went onto the Web in June 1998 with a product that translated medical terminology into plain language that consumers could understand and on which they could base healthcare and pharmaceutical purchases.

In the fall of 1999 Apax partners took a 50 percent stake in the company allowing expansion into five other countries — Norway, Sweden, Austria, Germany and the United Kingdom. The service is free but the owners hope to charge for it in the future with insurance companies picking up the tab.

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