MONEY

Why the Once-Hot IPO Market Suddenly Went Cold

As the air comes out of the tech bubble, promising tech companies hold their breath to see what comes next before going public.
Advertisement

Box, the cloud storage company that less than two months ago trumpeted its plans for a big public offering, has suddenly gone quiet.

Twitter, the erstwhile social media star, has seen its share price fall to near an all-time low. And other tech companies that have gone public recently have suddenly lost their bragging rights as returns have sagged. Meanwhile, the tech-heavy NASDAQ index is down about 7 percent since the first week of March, despite some modest gains this week.

That the air has come out of the tech market and tech IPOs seem to be stalling comes as no surprise to experts who follow the industry. In fact, expect more IPO-eager companies to suddenly go quiet, experts say.

Impossible valuations, lack of profits, and hyped growth plans are raising eyebrows, if not ire. So what's an ambitious small-business owner in the tech world to do? The time has come to retrench and focus on fundamentals, including strong cash flow and profits.

"We really are now in danger of what we had in 2000," Brian Hamilton, founder and chief executive of Sageworks, a financial data firm for private companies, says, referring to the bursting of the Dotcom bubble. 

Box, like many of its tech peers, is not profitable. For the year ended January 31, 2014, Box reported a net loss of $169 million, compared to a net loss of $112 million for the same period in 2013. It's net loss for January 31, 2012 was just $5 million.

Twitter, in first quarter earnings released Tuesday, reported $250 million in revenue, more than double the revenue it reported for the same period a year ago. But its losses widened to $132 million in the first quarter, about five times the losses compared to the same period in 2013.

Still, the seemingly sudden displeasure with the tech sector comes as no surprise to experts like Kathleen Smith, principal of Renaissance Capital, an IPO investment advisor.

"The IPO market has turned negative on the tech sector and for good reason," Smith says.

Of 24 technology IPOs in 2014 that have raised $3.6 billion, Smith says, they've produced a -16.5 percent return, following an opening day "pop" for some, which is worse than any other sector.

What's more, of the 13 offerings that have surfaced since April, 10 companies had their stock prices set below the ranges they had expected to garner, a sign they were attempting to get more than insitutional investors were willing to pay.

Additionally, the Renaissance IPO exchange traded fund, which represents a basket of companies that have recently gone public, is down about 3 percent for the year, compared to the S&P 500, which has notched a positive 2 percent return. March was the turning point, Smith says, because until then the IPO ETF outperformed the S&P 500.

Some pretty high-profile tech companies are still in the pipeline, including China's enormous ecommerce concern Alibaba, Cloudera, the big data platform that recently received close to a $1 billion in venture capital funding, and the mobile payments company Square, founded by tech celebrity Jack Dorsey.

But for May, there are no tech companies launching new IPO deals, Smith says.

"Look for the IPO ETF returns to go positive as a signal that the IPO market is open for business again," Smith say. "But this time it will be open at lower IPO prices for issuers [because] investors won't participate unless they make money."

IMAGE: Getty Images
Last updated: May 1, 2014

JEREMY QUITTNER | Staff Writer | Staff Writer, Inc. and Inc.com

Jeremy Quittner is a staff writer for Inc. magazine and Inc.com. He previously covered technology for American Banker and entrepreneurship for BusinessWeek.




Register on Inc.com today to get full access to:
All articles  |  Magazine archives | Livestream events | Comments
EMAIL
PASSWORD
EMAIL
FIRST NAME
LAST NAME
EMAIL
PASSWORD

Or sign up using: