2011

The gloom about tech IPOs

September 13, 2011: 8:42 AM ET

Investors may be swayed by the hype around hot tech IPOs in advance and immediately after their public debuts. But data shows that hype-driven momentum fades soon enough.

By Kevin Kelleher, contributor

FORTUNE -- Tech startups hoping to find an exit strategy in the public stock market might reconsider. First, market turbulence and the prospect of a double-dip recession led the likes of Zynga and Groupon to consider delaying their debuts. Now it seems 2011 is proving to be not just an unkind year for IPOs in general. It's especially unkind to tech.

Tableau Software, a Seattle-based data-analytics software company, looked at 24 technology IPOs that have listed on U.S. exchanges so far in 2011 and found that, as a group, they are significantly underperforming other sectors. Tech IPOs are on average trading 11.5% below their offering prices, while compared with a 5% decline in business and financial services IPOs, a 7% decline in real estate IPOs and a 8% decline in industrial and consumer product IPOs.

Many IPOs are down from their offering prices because most went public in the first half of the year, before a summer swoon brought nearly all stock prices down (since mid-July, the S&P 500 Index has dropped 14%). But even so, tech IPOs are being hit especially hard. Only IPOs in the energy industry, which are down an aggregate 12% from their offering prices, have performed more poorly than tech.

Graph

Only a third of the 24 tech IPOs Tableau tracked closed Monday above their offering prices, led by social network LinkedIn (LNKD), up 84%; business-software maker ServiceSource International (SREV), up 61%; and web-security company Qihoo 360 Technology (QIHU), up 49%. Those gains are comparable to the better performing IPOs in other industries: CVR Partners (UAN), a fertilizer company, is up 55% and cancer-drug developer Endocyte (ECYT) is up 80%.

But viewed from a different angle, tech performance isn't so stellar. LinkedIn and Qihoo saw their stock prices double on their first day of trading. LinkedIn is down 12% from its first-day closing price and Qihoo is down 37%. So many of the gains that were fleetingly available on the hottest tech IPOs evaporated quickly.

Graph

Tinkering with Tableau's data shows how quickly the post-IPO gains for tech startups can decay. Tech IPOs on average traded 15% above their offering prices after the first 10 days in the public markets. Even after a month, they were still holding up pretty well -- trading an average of 12% above the offering prices. That's slightly better than the sample of IPOs from all industries, which were trading 10% above their offering prices at 10 days and 30 days after IPO.

After their first month, however, tech IPOs start to disconnect from their peers in the class of 2011. After 60 days into the market, tech companies have started underperforming, trading at a 5% premium from the offering price while all IPOs are still 7% higher. And after three months, they had fallen on average to 15% below offering prices. The whole group of IPOs still traded 2% higher.

Among the sectors that saw IPO prices remain robust three months after listing were consumer goods and health care. Offerings in those two industries were up 12% and 24%, respectively, thanks to the successful listings of names like Arcos Dorados (a McDonald's (MCD) franchisee in Latin America), nutritional supplements retailer GNC (GNC) and Endocyte.

All of these IPOs received a small fraction of the business-press coverage of companies like Pandora (P) and RenRen (RENN), which are trading 39% and 52%, respectively, below the prices investors paid for shares in the initial offering. But as the spotlight dims on the popular web IPOs, the buying interest seems to fade and investors who bought into the IPO may start unloading shares.

Investors may be swayed by the attention and hype devoted to tech IPOs in advance and immediately after their launch into the public markets. But hype-driven momentum fades soon enough. Instead, the old investment chestnuts about flights to safety in non-cyclicals like consumer goods and pharmaceuticals seem to have much more endurance. This year, such staid, unglamorous offerings are the ones investors appear to like for the long haul.

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