Facebook’s follies make weak IPO market weaker
Investing • 2012 shaping up to be worst in five years.
Published: June 4, 2012 10:18AM
Updated: September 11, 2012 11:32PM
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Paul Sakuma | Associated Press file photo Facebook, by failing to instill confidence among investors and executives, has made a weak market weaker. No offerings have priced since its debut May 18. And as of last week, only one company was set to go public anytime in the near future.

After Facebook flopped in its market debut, investors are not liking new stock offerings.

Kayak, the discount travel website based in Norwalk, Conn., reportedly is postponing its initial public offering amid a rocky market for new stocks. The company’s roadshow for investors, which was expected to begin soon, has been delayed for the time being.

Not all initial public offering troubles can be pinned on Facebook. Europe’s woes continue to lash the public markets, and as investors seek safety, relatively risky bets such as new stocks are paying the price.

Last week, Graff Diamonds, a high-end jeweler, said that it was pulling its initial offering in Hong Kong, citing “adverse market conditions” that made attracting potential investors difficult.

Facebook, by failing to instill confidence among investors and executives, has made a weak market weaker. No offerings have priced since it’s debut May 18. And as of last week, only one company, Loyalty Alliance Enterprise, was set to go public anytime in the near future.

“The current market is on hold,” said James Krapfel, an analyst with Morningstar Research. Facebook’s shares have fallen nearly 26 percent since their debut, and that, he added, has “really put a damper on investors’ enthusiasm for IPOs.”

A senior IPO banker put it more bluntly, saying, “It’s pretty ugly out there.”

Subtract Facebook from the initial public offering data for the year to date, and 2012 is shaping up to be one of the worst years since 2007. So far this year, 73 companies have priced offerings, raising $29.1 billion, according to Thomson Reuters.

Facebook alone accounts for $16 billion of those proceeds, or more than half of the activity for the year to date.

And several companies that successfully brought offerings to market earlier this year, such as the private-equity firm Carlyle Group, priced below their expected range. Others, such as BrightSource Energy and the aluminum products maker Aleris, withdrew their offerings altogether.

The sagging market for new offerings reflects diminished investor confidence in stocks broadly. IPOs, experts say, are among the riskiest financial offerings in which one can invest. Buying into a deal means making a bet on a relatively unproven management team and a company with limited insight into its financial performance.

One traditional way of enticing new investors is to price initial offerings at a small discount. But amid the turmoil of recent weeks, the institutions that buy shares in these deals are demanding progressively more protection against busted offerings. That translates into weaker pricing for initial public offerings, creating a gap that sellers are increasingly unwilling to bridge.

“Just because markets have been bad for a month, corporate sellers haven’t come off their views on valuation,” one senior IPO banker said. “But people in the marketplace who feel this every day have certainly stepped back.”

Although a number of companies have offerings on file — including Michaels Stores, the arts and crafts retail giant; Fender Musical Instruments; Intelsat, a satellite operator; and Bloomin’ Brands, the owner of the Outback Steakhouse chain — bankers say that their owners are more likely to wait for markets to stabilize than to risk selling their holdings for far less than their worth.

These sellers include private-equity firms that had hoped to sell minority stakes of their portfolio companies, with the aim of eventually cashing out their investments. But unless such owners have a pressing need to go forward soon, they will not risk generating lower-than-expected returns by staging initial public offerings at low prices.

The offerings that will price soon are likely to be smaller deals that are valued conservatively, these dealmakers say.

“It’s going to be a slow summer,” Krapfel of Morningstar said.

Attended by no small amount of hype and hoopla, Facebook’s offering had been seen as the spark that would rev up the market. Instead, the offering now looms large as an example of what could go wrong. The company’s debut was beset by severe trading problems and investor worries that its nearly $105 billion valuation was unjustifiably rich.

The offering “busted,” or broke below its offer price, on its second day of trading and has tumbled well below its initial public offering price of $38 since. Shares of the social network were in the $28 range at week’s end.

Facebook alone cannot answer for all the problems that companies going public are encountering. Kayak, for instance, first filed for an IPO in the fall of 2010, and as recently as last fall had put its plans on ice because of market volatility. Kayak’s lead underwriting bank happens to be same as Facebook’s — Morgan Stanley.

Persistent questions about the health of European economies — and their impact on the United States — and whether the euro monetary union will disband have weighed on the broader markets for weeks, and will likely continue to rattle investors.

“The $1 trillion drop in the value of U.S. equities since the beginning of May has had a bigger impact on IPO activity than the drop in Facebook,” said Jay Ritter, the Cordell professor of finance at the University of Florida. “Facebook’s fall from a $104 billion valuation is a one-of-a-kind phenomenon.”