There have been many headlines recently regarding initial public offerings (IPOs) of technology companies. These headlines tend to generate media buzz and excitement from investors eager to make a quick profit or get in on the next big thing.
The first issue investors face is access to IPOs. In an IPO, the company sells shares to one or more investment banks. These firms then market the shares to their clients at a slightly higher price known as the Public Offering Price or “POP.” These clients are typically large institutions rather than retail investors looking to buy relatively small amounts.
We do not have any special access to obtain shares at the POP. If we did, we would likely receive a small number of shares that we would need to allocate fairly across our 1,100+ clients.
You can look up the prospectus, or S-1 registration statement, for any IPO at www.sec.gov. If you do this, you will notice that the price and number of shares are blank until the last minute. These are filled in right before the registration statement is declared effective by the SEC and the shares start trading. You do not know the price while you are reviewing the information to make an investment decision.
When trading opens, the shares may sell for above or below the POP. It all depends on the supply and demand for shares. Recent technology IPOs have tended to significantly underperform the overall market.
Some recent companies have come public at valuations of over 100 times trailing earnings, while the market as a whole currently trades at about 15 times trailing earnings. What does this mean from an investment standpoint? Mathematically, these new companies must continue to grow at a much faster rate than the overall market for a long time in order to justify their current stock prices. If there is an earnings disappointment, these high-projected growth companies will tend to fall in price more than a company trading at a more reasonable valuation.
You may love the product, but that may not make for a good investment. Let’s take the airline industry as an example. I love the idea that you can get on a plane and go almost anywhere in the world. But the industry has been plagued with bankruptcies, with many examples of common stockholders being completely wiped out and losing their entire investment.
How about the auto industry? I love the product, and everyone has one. In the early 1900’s in the US, there were thousands of auto manufacturers. Now there are three. What are the chances that you as an investor would have picked one of those three? And two of them went through bankruptcy in the past three years.
In addition, there are many quality companies currently trading at valuations below that of the overall market that have increased their dividends each year for 25, 35 or over 55 years. While we invest in technology companies, we prefer to focus on established companies with solid balance sheets that have the potential for long-term growth of earnings, dividends or both.
Bill Hansen, CFA
February 12, 2012