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IPO: why go public?

by Sandy Campart, Director of IUP Banque Finance Assurance de Caen

The main objective of an IPO – Initial Public Offering – is to raise capital in order to allow a company to grow. However, during a global economic slowdown, investors are increasingly cautious. In times like these, how should you prepare to go to the market? 

Reasons for an IPO 

A company’s motivation for going public is often linked to the idea of “creating one’s own currency” in order to fund internal and external growth, to diversify future sources of finance and strengthen the financial structure of the company. Listing a company on the stock exchange results in tradability and liquidity, allowing previous shareholders to exit, realising a gain on their capital. It also creates a valuation for the company which will be useful for future succession plans. At a strategic level, an IPO can enable the company to clarify its strategy, refocus its activities, increase its visibility and credibility, and ultimately differentiate itself from competitors.

Nonetheless an IPO will significantly change the way a company operates. Corporate governance has to be overhauled, support functions professionalised and financial communication must be made transparent. All studies show that, when information is withheld, the negative impact on the share price is greater than if the bad news had been announced.

2019: a mixed bag

In 2019, newly listed companies have seen their share price grow by almost 13% on average. However, the figures vary greatly. Software and IT security companies have performed the best with an average of nearly 40%.

Nevertheless, the stock market performances of SmileDirect (dental aligners), Peloton (exercise bikes and fitness) and even Uber attest to the increased scepticism of investors for unrealistic or exaggerated levels of profitability. Uber’s price has been particularly disappointing since the latest results presented were well below the expectations of the investors. In the second quarter of 2019, the turnover was more than 5% lower than expected and the profit – or rather the deficit – per share was 53% greater than expected. Uber’s growth has been slower than that of rival appLyft, and the restructuring costs associated with many departures, lay-offs and resignations do not seem to be controlled. Additionally, Uber’s CEO, Dara Khosrowski, told his employees that the teams were too large to be compatible with the pace of growth needed, while Uber’s CTO, Thuan Pham, believes it could take decades for Uber to achieve its “vision”, suggesting there could be a later than expected ability to turn a profit.

Towards a better year in 2020?

For a company wishing wanting to maximise its initial flotation price, there are two strategies to pursue: the first is to float when the company is performing exceptionally, the second is to wait until the stock market is in a more favourable position.

In the context of a global economic slowdown, investors have for several months been moving towards “safe haven” shares in order to protect their assets. This, combined with the chaotic path of some recently introduced companies and the abundance of private financing, makes it difficult to see an acceleration of operations in 2020.

Even though the flotation of Airbnb remains topical, Postmates (delivery service) and Endeavor (talent agency) have paused their entry to the stock market. It is possible they are prioritizing interest from venture capitalists and risk capitalists. Palantir (Big Data) and Stripe (internet payments) could also look for private funds instead.

 The WeWork failure

WeWork is the most prominent example of our current inability to distinguish a unicorn from a chimera. Investors have to learn – or re-learn – how to resist those appealing equity fairy stories and to see beyond the innovative nature and rapid growth of a concept. Cash flow, debt level and governance remain key decision-making factors. In the WeWork prospectus, the word “technology” appears more than 120 times. The Coué method of repetition is here being used to suggest that traditional valuation models should not apply to this business. There is little doubt, however that WeWork is more of a property developer with an innovative business model than it is a technology company.