It's Official, Facebook Killed a Shaky IPO Market -- Is a Rebound Coming?

By Sarah Lacy , written on June 26, 2012

From The News Desk

Most people have overstated the impact of Facebook's IPO Clusterfuck* on Facebook itself.

Was it ideal? No. Are more recent employees let down? Most definitely. Was it a little embarrassing? Almost certainly on some basic human level. But at the end of the day, the company has $16 billion in the bank, Mark Zuckerberg has solid control of the company, and its future is assured. Back to work, Hacker Way.

But it's hard to understate the effect the Facebook IPO Clusterfuck (FIC) had on the rest of the tech world -- particularly companies looking to go public whose futures aren't quite so rock solid.

New numbers from PwC US IPO Watch show us basically what we knew already: This year started out awesome for IPOs, and post-Facebook, it fell off a cliff. We went from "IP-OHHHHH YEAHHHH!" to "ip-ohhh never mind."

There were 44 IPOs in the first quarter and just 27 in the second quarter. Year-to-date those 71 companies have raised $26.9 billion, compared with 85 companies that raised $25.8 billion in the first half of last year. That looks like a year that's nicely keeping pace until you consider that $16 billion of that went to Facebook. Yow.

This market chill hurts the mid-cap IPOs more than the big multibillion issues that get the bulk of the headlines. Excluding Facebook, the total IPO proceeds in the second quarter were $5.2 billion or an average of $200 million per IPO. That's an increase over the first quarter's average proceeds of just $131 million per IPO.

Researchers didn't point the finger at the FIC debacle as much as broader uncertainty in the global markets, particularly European and Chinese macroeconomic concerns. Indeed, overall companies that went public in the second quarter are holding up okay. They have an average return of 8 percent. That's better than the S&P500, which had a quarterly loss of 6 percent. (In fact, don't look now, but even Facebook is slowly recovering.)

The global macroeconomic situation may well be the root cause for the funk. But you can't ignore that the shuttered window just so happened to coincide with Facebook's pricing. No one has gone out in the US since, although a few are tepidly listing. Clearly startups are thinking: Wait a minute. If Facebook couldn't survive the European meltdown, why do I think I can?

The study points out that the registration pipeline is very full, signaling that plenty of companies are ready to go, should the market look less dire. To me, it's a signal of something else: A ton of issues were hoping to ride Facebook's coattails. Now, they are not so sure. The next issues to come out will almost assuredly have lower prices than they would have pre-Facebook, and since that represents not just bragging rights but real money that the company gets to build its business, that's not an inconsequential consideration.

And as we've argued before, many techies are wondering just what the hell was up with the NASDAQ's bizarre decision to run Facebook's IPO on a new piece of software that had never before been tested. More than a month later, there are more questions about that part of the IPO -- not fewer.

How full is that pipeline of companies? The survey's researchers pointed out that for the first time, they frankly don't know. Thanks to the new ability for companies to file in secret under the JOBS Act, it may be even fuller than we realize. And, hence, no one will know if those issues decide to pull their registration if the markets remain in a slump.

The fall-off globally was more acute than in the US: IPO activity fell by 65 percent in the second quarter in Europe. The proceeds from IPOs in Europe were down 96 percent. Now that's a slump. Asia showed a 40 percent decline in listings and a 76 percent decline in proceeds year-over-year in the second quarter. As our own Hamish McKenzie pointed out early this morning, the hope for Chinese returns may be in something that's never been very popular on the continent: Mergers and acquisitions.

And -- if the monster Yammer-Microsoft deal is any indication -- it looks like that'll keep driving most of the returns here too.

  • This is our official term for the IPO.

[Illustration by Hallie Bateman]