Q3 stands as another slow IPO quarter

The market for IPOs in the United States continued its precipitous fall in the third quarter, dropping to levels not seen in more than five years.

The IPO market has reached near paralysis after a second quarter that had been the worst since early 2003. But the drop in IPO activity was even sharper in the third quarter, falling 80% from the prior quarter, with the outlook equally dim for the coming quarter.

Only four IPOs, led by solar equipment maker GT Solar International, launched during the third quarter, yielding $930 million, according to quarterly league tables data released by Thomson Reuters. It is only the second time this decade that IPO proceeds have failed to reach the $1 billion barrier.

The handful of deals that did get out of the gate have all had negative returns, as investors grappling with the jumpy markets have eschewed unknown and unproven companies.

GT Solar, the period’s largest IPO, valued at $500 million, is down more than 36%, while Texas-based Web-hosting company Rackspace Hosting Inc., which used an auction to price its $187.5 million IPO, is down about 11 percent.

“IPOs have no business coming public at a time like this,” says David Menlow, president of IPOFinancial.com, who pins the bulk of the blame for the market’s lethargy on the volatile markets. “Investors don’t see a reason to buy IPOs.”

But the lack of activity also reflects appropriate caution on the part of companies and underwriters, says one banker.

“What would be worse would be people aimlessly throwing companies out there and failing,” says Mark Hantho, global co-head of equity capital markets at Deutsche Bank AG. Better for them to wait, he says.

And they are waiting. There has not been an IPO in the United States in nearly two months. The last was Rackspace in early August.

“Any thoughtful adviser would not, in this environment, venture to take a company public. There are other sources of capital,” says Hantho, citing private equity funds, venture capital and private investments.

“Companies that need capital are exploring those alternatives and not forcing themselves into exceptionally uncertain market conditions.”

The financial storm has been brutal to the companies that went ahead with their offerings.

The quarter saw a number of companies, including Kentucky coal company Rhino Resources Inc., attempt to price, only to withdraw when the market balked.

Last week, California-based laboratory systems maker Fluidigm Corp., which counts Lehman Borthers as a shareholder, became the latest company to pull its IPO after several attempts to price a deal.

BETTER IPOs

One glimmer of hope Hantho sees is in the backlog of companies waiting to go public.

“There is absolutely a backlog building up and the quality of those companies is very high. It’s not a dot-com calendar,” he says.

Last week saw two new filings by more established companies. Rosetta Stone Inc., a language self-instruction company, filed for a $115 million IPO and Edgen Murray Ltd., which distributes steel products for the energy infrastructure market, filed for a $250 million flotation.

But the events of the last two weeks in the financial markets, with a number of bank failures and government bailouts, are likely to further delay a recovery in the IPO market and preclude any meaningful pickup of business in the fourth quarter.

“Normality needs to return to the financial markets,” Hantho says. “We need to be further away from the tremors and it’s likely most people will elect an ‘09 financing instead.” —Reuters