IPO woes

Contact: Brenon Daly

For the second straight time, a tech company hoping to come to market has scaled back the money it planned to raise. TeleNav, which started trading Thursday, originally planned to sell shares at $11-13. The mobile navigation service vendor then cut the range to $9-10 before ultimately pricing its seven-million-share offering at $8. The erosion on TeleNav’s terms comes two weeks after Convio also had to reduce the price tag on its IPO.

Of course, in the period between the two IPOs we saw an almost inconceivable market plunge that erased 1,000 points from the Dow Jones Industrial Average in just five minutes. (OK, the collapse might not be inconceivable, but it is proving to be inexplicable. Was it the black-box, high-velocity firms or just a bunch of ‘fat-fingered traders’ that bled the Dow last Thursday?) And while that uncertainty continues to weigh on the overall market, it’s basically stifling the IPO market. After all, if investors are fleeing from billion-dollar companies that are household names, are they really going to embrace unknown and unproven would-be debutants?

But as we note in a new report on the IPO market, Wall Street – as it often does – appears to have swung too far in its avoidance of risk. Investors have been demanding a ridiculously steep discount on the valuations of the companies that want to come public. Take the case of TeleNav, which closed its initial day of trading with a market cap of just $400m. If we back out the cash that TeleNav already held ($46m) along with the cash that it just raised ($45m), the company starts its life on Wall Street with an enterprise value of just $310m. By our back-of-the-envelope calculation, that’s just 2 times sales and 5 times cash flow – a slap-in-the-face valuation for a profitable company that’s growing sales at 50%.

When we look at the capital markets today, we aren’t particularly concerned with the day-to-day trading. Stocks go up and stocks go down, just as risk in the market (real or perceived) ebbs and flows. Nonetheless, it’s hard to look at the tech IPO market and not be struck by the fact that companies are putting together smaller offerings and debuting at notably lower valuations than they would have in the time before the US economy slumped into its worst decline since the Great Depression. And we don’t see that changing anytime soon.

Recent tech IPO events

Date Company Comment
May 2010 TeleNav Cuts expected range, and then prices below it
April 2010 Convio Prices below range, goes public at sub-$200m market cap
April 2010 SPS Commerce Debuts at sub-$200m market cap
April 2010 IntraLinks Files for $150m IPO, the third time it has filed an S-1
April 2010 QlikTech Files for $100m IPO
April 2010 Nexsan Postpones $55m IPO after setting initial range