Skeptical investors knocked down shares of Seagate ( STX) in its IPO, but analysts took care to cast the debut as a reflection of the deal's particulars, rather than an omen for the prospects of the broader tech market. In fact, some say the underwhelming reception shows investors have grown less tech-infatuated and more sensible. The stock dipped 42 cents, or 3.5%, to $11.58 in recent trading. Only yesterday, bankers for Seagate
had to settle for an offering price of $12 , below the company's hopes for $13 to $15. The weak opening today belies a surge of initial investor interest in the deal. "The road shows were very crowded, but I think a lot of traditional investors in data storage kicked the tires and maybe walked away," says Mark Miller, an analyst with the boutique investment firm of Hoefer-Arnett, which doesn't do banking. Now the financial press is "trying to spin this as 'everybody hates tech,'" he says. "But I think it's more a question of the deal being somewhat overpriced, along with concerns Seagate couldn't maintain its leadership." Miller credits the company with impressive market-share gains over the past two years as a private company, but he says he has concerns about its ability to hold those gains. In the high-margin server drive area, Seagate's share fell from 58% in the June quarter to 53.5% in the September quarter, he points out. "They countered that in the road show by saying they were going to enter the laptop drive area, but that has lower margins, so we didn't really buy that as much," he says. Another concern: the deal was "certainly not cheaply priced," in Miller's opinion. Consider that rival Maxtor ( MXO), which gets credit for executing a business turnaround, was trading yesterday at 0.35 times forward revenue. But even with shares priced at $12, below expectations, Seagate traded at 0.85 forward revenue. "While Seagate has traditionally traded higher because of its server market share, which has higher margins, that seemed to be too big a difference for some people," says Miller.
The IPO was "a little disappointing," agrees Richard Peterson, an analyst who focuses on corporate finance for Thomson Financial. Given the warm reception to last week's Chicago Merc ( CME) offering, Wall Street had hoped Seagate would be greeted with more enthusiasm, he adds. In its first day of trading, Chicago Merc closed up 23% from its offering price, according to a report. But Peterson says Seagate was priced too high in the first place. "I know some fund managers were probably looking at it to be more fairly priced in the $8 to $10 range because it's a low-margin business." The market has hosted about 94 IPOs this year, Peterson said. About one-quarter of that total were tech-related, but most of those have been in biotech, he said. The Seagate IPO offered a spot of relief for banking-starved investment houses. A slew of top banks took a piece of the deal, including Morgan Stanley and Salomon Smith Barney, Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan, Bear Stearns, Credit Suisse First Boston, Lehman, Merrill Lynch and Thomas Weisel. Miller says Seagate's sluggish debut shows that times have changed. "They had every major bank in their corner and still couldn't pull it off where they wanted to," he says, referring to the lowered offering price. "There could be some hope for the little guy on Wall Street when the big guys couldn't force this down their throat. Wall Street, I think, acted rationally -- especially considering there was a critical mass off very big names on the front cover."