Global IPOs begin 2021 at breakneck pace

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Listings on stock markets around the world are running at a record pace, with both deal numbers and values at their highest levels for the start of any year in at least two decades.

This year, 875 initial public offerings each raising at least $1m have been clinched globally, according to data from Dealogic that cover the last 26 years. That figure far outstrips the previous record set in the final months of the dotcom boom in 2000, when 592 companies raised $1m or more in floats at the year’s start.

The deluge of listings has lifted IPO proceeds to a record-setting $230bn this year, well above the previous peak of $80bn set in 2000.

The boom stems largely from a spree of flotations of shell companies known as special purpose acquisition companies, or Spacs, which have accounted for almost half of the fundraising haul through IPOs in 2021. Spacs have no underlying business and instead raise capital to pursue a merger with a privately held business.

But the rise in IPOs also reflects enduring demand for global listings in a year when markets have rallied to new highs, with marquee names such as South Korean ecommerce company Coupang and US dating app Bumble making public debuts.

Globally, proceeds from IPOs in 2021 have already surpassed the full-year totals for 21 of the past 26 years.

Column chart of Number of IPOs, by type showing The number of companies going public has ballooned

“The numbers are encouraging because they’re evidence that people have renewed confidence that public markets are a good way to exit their business,” said Carlton Nelson, co-head of corporate broking at Investec. “It shows that they don’t have to tap into private capital despite it being easier and more efficient than it has been for a long time.”

The listings have been heavily tilted to the US, where Spacs had flourished before running into trouble in recent weeks. Roughly two-thirds of the $230bn of capital raised this year has been through listings in the country. China and Hong Kong have trailed in distant second and third places as the preferred choice for new listings, accounting for 8 per cent and 5 per cent of IPO proceeds, respectively.

Among the big debuts already this year have been SoftBank-backed Coupang, which along with selling shareholders raised $4.6bn, and TikTok’s video-sharing rival Kuaishou, which raised $6.2bn in its Hong Kong listing. Food delivery app Deliveroo also made headlines with its London IPO, which raised $2bn for the company and early backers but was ultimately panned by new investors.

Column chart of Global initial public offering proceeds ($bn) showing Companies and Spacs have raised $230bn through IPOs in 2021

Other large listings are already in the queue, including entertainment group Endeavor, Jessica Alba’s consumer goods business Honest Co and stock trading app Robinhood.

The data do not include direct listings, where companies decline to raise capital when they go public, meaning cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s blockbuster debut on the Nasdaq earlier this month is not counted in the figures.

Chris Nicholls, who leads Deloitte’s UK IPO and equity advisory team, said he believed the rest of the year looked promising for a spate of new listings.

“As you see economies emerging from lockdown, there should be a period of strong [economic] growth, which bodes well for this wave continuing for a while longer,” he added.

Bar chart of Cash raised through initial public offerings, by company nationality ($bn) showing Roughly two-thirds of IPO proceeds have been raised in the US

A key question is how much air will come out of the Spac phenomenon, which ballooned in popularity last year but has “slowed meaningfully” in recent weeks, according to strategists with Goldman Sachs.

Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month promised closer scrutiny of the revenue and profit projections from companies that use the vehicles to go public, and the number of new Spac listings has plummeted.

Still, the global economic reopening after the coronavirus pandemic is likely to prompt companies to pursue flotations, Investec’s Nelson said.

“IPOs have a long gestation period, it’s not just when the starting gun has been fired,” he added. “It’s really encouraging to see companies of all shapes and sizes starting those conversations now, even if it’s for a few years’ time in the future.”

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