Following IPO wave, startups’ stock sales have slowed to a trickle
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The Cava restaurant chain is going public. This week, the purveyor of fast-casual Mediterranean-style food filed updated paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission to sell shares to investors.
Normally, that would not be big news. But right now, there aren’t a whole lot of companies champing at the bit to make initial public offerings on stock exchanges.
The picture was different about two years ago. The stock market was going gangbusters, and it seemed like just about every company wanted to join in. Then, the party ended in 2022, and it’s been slow to start up again. What’ll it take to make IPOs cool again?
People who pay a lot of attention to initial public offerings like to talk about the “IPO window.” It’s open when investors feel spendy, per Sarah Kunst of Cleo Capital.
“Think of it like when you go on a shopping spree and you buy a bunch of stuff you don’t really need because it’s fun, right?” Kunst said. “Versus when you’re, like, really looking at the bills at the end of the month, saying, ‘I’m only buying the necessities.’“
The market’s been in the latter mood for a while, Kunst added. In other words, “right now, the IPO window is pretty shut.”
That’s a big change from the heady days of 2021, when meme stocks and special purpose acquisition companies or SPACs, also known as blank check companies, were all the rage. Then, the market weakened, or “corrected.”
“Unfortunately, it’s really hard to have a small correction. You tend to go from things being really, really good to, you know, really not so good,” Kunst said.
The IPO window has slammed shut plenty of times before, according to Jay Ritter, a professor of finance at the University of Florida. “After the 1987 stock market crash, after the internet bubble burst in 2000, after the 2008 financial crisis,” he said.
But unlike those episodes, this time the stock market is doing relatively well, Ritter said. So why is the IPO market so listless?
Investors and entrepreneurs still remember the sky-high valuations back in the boom days when the IPO window was open, he said. “And it’s just like when housing prices fall, people like to anchor on what the price used to be.”
“I think as things come back to more stability in a sense, I think you’ll see the IPO market open up,” he said.
The market is also waiting to see how the few planned IPOs fare, like Cava’s, said Avery Spear with Renaissance Capital.
If those companies do well, “that kind of acts as a jamb to hold the IPO window open a little bit more,” she said.
If it opens enough, others might be ready to jump through it too.
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