Bain Auto Parts Company Shares Rise In Debut

Hopes for a recovering in the auto industry buoyed car parts maker Sensata Technologies Holding in its market debut on March 11, sending shares of the Bain Capital-backed company up as much as 5.6 percent. Bain Capital sold shares in the offering, raising hopes for other buyout shops that want to take some cash off the table through IPOs.

Sensata, which manufactures sensors for automakers, thermal circuit breakers for aircraft and other industrial technology, was carved out of Texas Instruments by Bain Capital for $3 billion in April 2006. In 2009 more than half of the company’s revenue came from the auto industry.

“One of its biggest customers right now is Ford, and Ford is cranking on all cylinders,” said IPO Boutique Senior Managing Partner Scott Sweet. Ford Motor Co.’s U.S. sales of cars and light trucks in February were 45.3 percent ahead of where they were a year ago. “As the economy turns it’s highly likely that their upcoming quarters will be strong and their cash flow will improve,” said Sweet.

Sensata’s shares rose as much as 5.6 percent on their first day of trading on the New York Stock Exchange after opening at their initial offering price. The company sold 31.6 million shares for $18 each on March 10, raising about $568.8 million. It had planned to sell the shares for $18 to $20 each. The stock closed up 2.78 percent at $18.50 on March 11 after rising as high as $19. At press time a week later, shares were trading at $18.37 a piece, 2.06 percent higher than the debut price.

Morningstar IPO Strategist Bill Buhr said Sensata’s performance lags historic first-day rises of 10 to 20 percent but said the auto industry has hit bottom and some of Sensata’s customers, like Ford, have ramped up production. “Ford has had an absolute renaissance,” he said.

Sensata is one of the few IPOs this year to price within the expected range. The market so far has been patchy, with many companies slashing the value of their IPOs to get the deals done, postponing or canceling them. “It’s still a challenging market,” said Scott Cutler, head of listings at NYSE Euronext. “The buy-side certainly has leverage in this type of market. You’re not going to be able to force valuation on buyers right now.”

Cutler said investors are paying particular attention to Sensata because it is the biggest U.S. IPO so far this year, it is the first IPO of the year in the hot tech sector, and its LBO-backers sold shares—a move that has been off-putting to investors recently. “I think the response has been very positive,” Culter said.

For Bain Capital, the investment in Sensata has been an operational success. Though the company posted 2009 net revenue of $1.1 billion, down about 20 percent from the previous year, its net loss during that same period narrowed to $27.7 million from $134.5 million. EBITDA, meanwhile, popped about 16 percent to $366.9 million in 2009 from $315.5 million the year before.

Sensata said in its prospectus that it expected to benefit from increasing auto production and cars that rely more on computers. But it also said it would continue to have significant debt following its IPO and expected to post losses in the foreseeable future. The IPO’s underwriters were led by Morgan Stanley, Barclays Capital and Goldman Sachs & Co. They have the option to purchase an additional 4.7 million shares.

—Clare Baldwin is a New York-based journalist for Reuters