IPOs Poised to Set Post-Tech Bubble High in 2014

NEW YORK (The Deal) -- The U.S. market for initial public offerings may be on pace for its best year since 2000, market watchers say.

The IPO market has produced 188 IPOs worth $40 billion so far this year, a 44% increase in deals compared with 2013, according to data from Renaissance Capital. A backlog of up to 100 more IPOs could raise another $40 billion, the research firm said. The number of companies filing for IPOs has already surpassed last year's total with 261 such filings, compared to 256 last year.

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"Only 34 more offerings are needed for 2014 to surpass 2013 as the busiest year for IPOs since the tech bubble, a milestone we expect to reach by the end of October," the research firm said in its "Fall 2014 U.S. IPO Preview" published Sept. 3.

To be sure, Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding's IPO is expected to raise about $20 billion, or half the $40 billion forecast, and may help revive interest in tech IPOs.

"Alibaba is the elephant in the pipeline with an estimated deal size of $20 billion, or 40% of projected total pipeline proceeds," Renaissance Capital said.

Chinese online retailers JD.com  (JD) and Jumei International Holding  (JMEI) have gained 72% and 44% respectively since their IPOs, Renaissance Capital noted, "indicating that investor interest in e-commerce is already hot."

In addition to Alibaba, two other large e-commerce companies Cnova NV, which is being spun off by French retailer Groupe Casino, and Wayfair Inc. are planning IPOs in the fourth quarter. Cnova's may raise as much as $1 billion and Wayfair's as much as $350 million.

The interest in e-commerce IPOs may help revive interest in going public by companies such as Box Inc., which decided to delay their IPOs after the market sell-off in March and April. Box, the cloud-based computing company, received a $150 million investment from TPG in July. Its IPO may raise as much as $150 million.

"Box is one of a number of enterprise software IPOs that appear ready to launch, likely encouraged by the year's best performing IPO, Zendesk (up 200%)," Renaissance Capital said.

Other tech areas that should see increased IPO activity are security software companies such as Cyber-Ark Software and Good Technology and marketing software companies such as HubSpot and Yodle, the research firm said.

TPG's investment in Box is a reminder that private equity firms continue to play a huge role in the health of the IPO market. Private equity funds are currently backing 46 IPOs that could raise $15 billion, Renaissance Capital said.

The biotech industry has also contributed to the hot IPO market and is likely to continue doing, driven by "positive clinical trial results and recent M&A activity," Renaissance said.

Rhythm Holding, a developer of treatment for gastrointestinal diseases and metabolic disorders, and Civitas Therapeutics, a developer of treatments for Parkinson's disease, both recently filed for $86 million IPOs. Calithera Bioscioences Inc., a developer of cancer drugs, filed for an $80 million offering, and ProQR Therapeutics, a Dutch developer of drugs for treating lung ailments such as cystic fibrosis, filed for a $75 million offering.

In addition, the research firm said it expects the financial and energy sectors to produce a number of IPOs in the fourth quarter.

"The financial sector has been active in the IPO market this year despite relatively poor performance (the group averages only a 4% return," the research firm said.

Commercial bank Citizens Financial Group's IPO may raise as much as $3 billion, while real estate investment trust Paramount Group's IPO could raise $2.5 billion.

In contrast to underperforming financial IPOs, energy IPOs have generally outperformed the broader market this year, Renaissance Capital said. "The strong reception seen by midstream MLPs should help the six in the pipeline including spinoffs from Shell and Dominion. Blackstone (BX) -backed spinoff Vivint Solar should also see interest after the success of 2012's IPO SolarCity."

Investment bankers including Bill Buchanan, head of investment banking at New York-based BTIG, and Christopher Marlett, CEO of Dallas-based MDB Capital Group, both say the IPO market is on target for a strong finish to the year despite headwinds that include growing geopolitical risks in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Israel.

"It is highly likely we will end the year as strongly as it started" for several reasons, said BTIG's Buchanan.

Firstly, he said because of "the Federal Reserve's relatively benign stance on interest rates and apparent view of a middling recovery, we're not likely to see any jarring movement."

Secondly, he said with the stock market strong, "M&A activity is in full swing, which has the effect of removing companies from the investment pool and thereby opens up room for new entrants," he said. "That's been a clear trend in life sciences."

"On balance, even without Alibaba, we should have a record breaking year," he said.

Among the few things that could trip up the IPO market is a return of high volatility.

"All the unrest in the world hasn't really affected our markets," Buchanan said. "It's surprising we haven't had more repercussions, but we haven't. It can always get worse."

The fact is the Chicago Board Options Exchange's Volatility Index "keeps coming down," he said. "It means investors are sitting tight on their positions. The investing world is getting clearly comfortable statistically. The U.S. still exists as a safe haven. And IPOs still represent a good way to get alpha in this environment."

MDB Capital's Marlett also is optimistic.

"I don't think the geopolitical situation ever has a big effect on IPOs," he said. "It would take something much more catastrophic" than any of the current conflicts to effect the public offering market.

"We've been conditioned by things that seem catastrophic at the time like 9-11 and the financial crisis," he said.

But even the effects of those events were temporary and the nation and economy have proven themselves to be resilient, Marlett said. "If Putin sent a nuclear missile somewhere we'd have some problems," he said. "Short of that happening, we shouldn't have any problems."

In the meantime, Marlett said the revival of IPOs has brought interest from investors who have rarely invested in new offerings in the past. "I've been getting calls from guys I haven't heard from in years wanting to participate in our IPOs," he said. "It's bordering on a mania."

Eventually, the number of IPOs will exceed demand. For now, however, "I don't get the sense we're near that," Marlett said. "We're not anywhere near the end of the cycle." Several securities attorneys echoed the bankers' assessment.

"There is no doubt that everyone, even the IPO bankers themselves, are keeping one eye on their screens with a focus on political news, but the other eye is on the markets, and the continuing ability to bring technology companies to market," said Mitchell Littman, a partner with the law firm of Littman Krooks in New York, in an e-mail.

"My understanding is that even during the latest hostilities with Hamas, a number of Israeli tech companies were able to complete their IPOs. So while there is focus and attention on the macro, the micro is winning out and deals are getting done."

In early August as Israeli troops battled Hamas forces, three Israeli tech or biotech companies went public: Mobileye (MBLY)  a developer of collision avoidance technology, raised $890 million, while regenerative medicine specialist MacroCure Ltd. raised $54 million, and Bio Blast Pharma Ltd., a developer of treatments for rare genetic conditions, raised $35.2 million.

"I don't think the geopolitical problems have had an effect yet," said Stuart Bressman, a partner with the law firm Proskauer Rose in New York.

"We really haven't had a robust IPO market since April 2000. There's been a lot of pent up demand. What's driving it is good fundamentals and companies with good earnings. The geopolitical issues aren't that serious.

"I don't see an end to it anytime soon," Bressman said. "I see a pause. I think we're due for a 10% correction, but it will be temporary."

The positive outlook is not shared by everyone, however.

"What they're describing is perfection," said Jack Hogoboom, a partner with the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, who specializes in IPOs by life sciences companies, in an interview. "If everything is perfect, that's what might happen. It's still early in September and it's hard to feel so confident."

Hogoboom said there were a number of deals attempted in July and early August that couldn't get done.

"I don't have a strong feeling that the market has the same appetite for life sciences IPOs as it did in the first quarter," he said. "Things have gotten a lot more challenging in life sciences. I get the sense there's fatigue."

As evidence of the fatigue, Hogoboom cited the run up in valuations of life science companies in the first quarter before the sell-off in late March.

"If you look at valuations, there were some life sciences companies that went up and gave a lot of it back in the summer.

"It doesn't have the feel of a frenzy that you had at the beginning of 2014," he said. "There's been a leveling off of activity."

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