Monday, December 23, 2013

Decrease in IPOs is a Good Signal

Closing out the year, IPOs are back in the news.  There were several large IPOs in HK and the US in the last quarter of 2013 and many had good first day price increases.  Some press articles are expecting IPO activity to increase in 2014 with many calling for it to be the best year for IPOs since 2007 (articles here and here).  

A large number of IPOs always seemed like the sign of a market top to me.  But this has been more of an assumption than something based on fact or past performance.

Thanks to accounting firm Ernst and Young and index provider MSCI I was able to assemble the chart below.  It shows IPO capital raised and overall global equity performance as tracked by the MSCI All Country World Index (ACWI) for the past 11+ years.  Not a large sample at all, but better than nothing.

Bear in mind that these are quick and dirty numbers and not a strict apples-to-apples comparison.  Ernst and Young's IPO figures include several markets that are not included in the AWCI index such as Argentina, Columbia, Syria and Ukraine.  

However all of the large markets are included in both - the US, UK, Japan, China, etc. The US accounts for close to 50% of the MSCI ACWI and it has been the largest issuer of IPO equities in two of the last three years. “It is better to be roughly right than precisely wrong”, John Maynard Keynes is believed to have said.

The quick and dirty comparison shows that in the past eleven years, the global index increased every year after IPO raised capital decreased.  In other words, a good time to invest would have been the year after the amount of money that went into IPOs decreased.  This is highlighted by the red arrows in the chart below.  

However the reverse does not seem to hold.  In the six years that more money went into IPOs, the global index increased in four of those years and decreased in two.  

Thus my initial assumption was wrong.  A large increase in money raised by IPOs does not necessarily mean a market top.  If anything, I suspect that the amount of media attention surrounding new companies coming to the market likely generates more interest in the stock market which helps keep or push up prices and valuations.  

One additional observation.   For the last 12 years, there has mostly been a direct correlation between the direction of IPO capital raised and the direction of the index.  The only years the two were not in sync - at least during this time period - was 2003 and 2012.  In both years IPO funding decreased while the global market index increased.

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