2013/02/20 1 Comment
Before I start bashing bankers, I’d like to congratulate the ExOne Company on a successful initial public offering (IPO). I haven’t seen much about ExOne [NASDAQ:XONE] on the robotics sites, but if we’re calling Stratasys [NASDAQ:SSYS] a robotics company, we should call ExOne a robotics company as well. It is really good to see another public company in our sector. Hopefully, this will encourage more investment of both capital and entrepreneurial energy in our industry.
By the criteria of the market commentators, the ExOne IPO was a huge success. You can Google things like “3D printing red hot.” The IPO was priced at the top of the range $16-18, it opened around $26 before shooting up over $33. Almost a week later it is trading roughly at its opening price.
Now this is all fine and dandy as far as it goes, unless you were an ExOne shareholder. Who, by the way were the ones selling in the IPO. One shareholder sold 300,000 shares in the IPO. This means that this one shareholder transferred a gain of $2.4M to some connections of the underwriters. This shareholder is taking $5.4M, less fees and discounts, call it $5M from of the IPO, so $2.4 is not exactly a rounding error. Presumably, this shareholder is also more inclined to build companies with the capital than whatever speculators are hovering over the IPO. Similarly, the company lost out on $40M of capital that could be invested in projects. Think about that. The company is worth less than $350M and the IPO mis-pricing cost it $40M of cash. Cash! Cash that could be sitting on the balance sheet scaring off competition and waiting for the next expansion opportunity.
It is hard to explain an IPO price that is so far below the fair market value of the company. I know that there are a lot reasons why bankers try to justify under pricing an IPO, but giving-up over 10% of the firm’s market value in a single transaction seems really hard to justify no matter what. I’m not sure what part of the economic gains from listing publicly should be given to financial intermediaries and incoming investors to get a deal done, but over 10% of the company seems quite excessive. These new shareholders have no restrictions on ownership and quite likely to flip their shares instead of taking an active roll in growing the company, which seems to further erode any claim they might have to extraordinary gains.
I’m not familiar with the track records of FBR, BB&T, and Stephens, the underwriters for the ExOne IPO, but I’d think twice or three times about hiring them if I was going to do an IPO. They seem to have not only underpriced the IPO, but also floated too much of the company, almost 40%. Underpricing the IPO might be tolerable if the bankers had only floated 5-10% of the company. The company could have done a secondary offering later once the offering had an established market price, instead of getting ripped off during the IPO. The large offering certainly did do one good thing for the bankers: it increased the underwriting fee.
If my company ever goes public, I hope I’ll have the good sense to hire Morgan Stanley–unless an underwriter is involved in litigation for overpricing an IPO, how can you be sure they’re any good? Heck, they even give discounts–what’s not to like!