SAN FRANCISCO -- It's feast and famine in the U.S. market for IPOs -- a feast of new issues, but a famine for those looking for big first-day or first-month upside.
For a more substantial meal, investors may do well to look at China.
Roiling markets were tough on new U.S. issues in November. Portfolio managers beset by falling fund values have lost focus and aren't concentrating on new issues the way they usually do, according to Ben Holmes, publisher of MorningNotes.
Part of the problem was the sheer number of deals. Some 30 new issues priced in November, compared with 23 the month before. With the onslaught, gains on November IPOs fell short, at 6.2% as of Monday, according to MorningNotes data.
That's a big disappointment following October's average gain of 27.2%. The weak showing ended a five-month streak of double-digit first-month average gains.
Even secondary public offerings actually saw first-month declines for the first time in at least two years.
Some new issues, like
struggled just to get out the door, offering no first-day upside to shareholders.
"The major question is whether the recent trend of postponement will continue," says Scott Sweet, managing director of IPO Boutique. "The pipeline is full. Underwriters would like to get these deals out as soon as possible, given the market environment and credit scenario."
So where to look for upside in December? China, of course. Some ADRs coming to U.S. exchanges hold breakout potential -- with caveats.
For one thing, Chinese IPOs have been suffering the same fate as U.S. issues. Several have had disappointing debuts. "Even though they are showing in most cases excellent growth, top and bottom lines, there is increasing speculation that the numbers are not always authentic," Sweet says.
And the P/E ratios of Chinese companies are steep. "They must maintain tremendous growth in order to sustain such multiples," Sweet added.
Although American buyers are broadly viewing ADRs as pessimistically as they do home-grown stocks, Chinese companies tend to be very disciplined, Holmes said. "They manage their bottom line very well."
One of the first IPOs up, scheduled for Dec. 6, will be
, a stock that Sweet believes shows promise. WSP manufactures pipe products for the oil and gas industry -- hardly sexy, but who needs sexy, given China's voracious appetite for energy.
The company grew revenue at a modest 36% for the first half of 2007, not as stellar as some Chinese issues, but it is rapidly building out manufacturing capacity. It plans to list for between $10.50 and $12.50 a share on the
under the ticker WH.
Also likely to debut, during the week of Dec. 10, is
Xinyuan Real Estate
, a Cayman Islands holding company for Chinese real estate development that has nearly doubled its revenue annually since 2003. For the nine months ended Sept. 30, it posted revenue of $218.3 million, up 119% year over year. EPS for the same period is 30 cents, up 58% from 19 cents for the same three quarters of 2006.
Moreover, Xinyuan's pipeline has grown fat: The company had $309 million in real estate under development on its balance sheet in September, up nearly 300% from the end of 2006. But its debt has risen accordingly, to $263 million.
Xinyuan develops residential property in second-tier Chinese cities. Property development has been a hot market in recent years, drawing a number of larger competitors, including the government.
filed an initial registration statement Friday. The company ranked among the top three Chinese software outsourcing service providers for the North American and European markets in 2006, according to IDC.
The provider of software development services is most notable for its exclusive roster of clients:
Microsoft and IBM each account for more than 15% of the company's sales. And the top five customers made up 60% of its revenue this year, making the company vulnerable to a sharp drop if it loses one. But the service provider has nearly tripled its client base in the past three years to 187, according to the filing.
For now, its revenue stream may be safe: Microsoft is expanding engineering, especially abroad. Any of its clients could view VanceInfo as a pool of buyable talent.
If you don't have the risk profile for Chinese issues, an American IPO likely to get some buzz is
, a social-networking company that operates the popular Classmates.com alumni Web site. The stock is scheduled to price Dec. 13 under the ticker symbol CLAS.
Social networking is "a hot area in terms of venture capital investment," says Holmes. "It's a well-known brand. We expect interest to be pretty high."