Evidence of underpricing during IPOs
In this article, Martin VAN DER BORGHT (ESSEC Business School, Master in Finance, 2022-2024) exposes the results of various studies concerning IPO underpricing.
What is IPO Underpricing?
Underpricing is estimated as the percentage difference between the price at which the IPO shares were sold to investors (the offer price) and the price at which the shares subsequently trade in the market. As an example, imagine an IPO for which the shares were sold at $20 and that the first day of trading shows shares trading at $23.5, thus the associated underpricing induced is (23.5 / 20) -1 = 17.5%.
In well-developed capital markets and in the absence of restrictions on how much prices are allowed to fluctuate by from day to day, the full extent of underpricing is evident fairly quickly, certainly by the end of the first day of trading as investor jump on an occasion to reflect the fair value of the asset entering the market, and so most studies use the first-day closing price when computing initial underpricing returns. Using later prices, say at the end of the first week of trading, is useful in less developed capital markets, or in the presence of ‘daily volatility limits’ restricting price fluctuations, because aftermarket prices may take some time before they equilibrate supply and demand.
In the U.S. and increasingly in Europe, the offer price is set just days (or even more typically, hours) before trading on the stock market begins. This means that market movements between pricing and trading are negligible and so usually ignored. But in some countries (for instance, Taiwan and Finland), there are substantial delays between pricing and trading, and so it makes sense to adjust the estimate of underpricing for interim market movements.
As an alternative to computing percentage initial returns, underpricing can also be measured as the (dollar) amount of ‘money left on the table’. This is defined as the difference between the aftermarket trading price and the offer price, multiplied by the number of shares sold at the IPO. The implicit assumption in this calculation is that shares sold at the offer price could have been sold at the aftermarket trading price instead—that is, that aftermarket demand is price-inelastic. As an example, imagine an IPO for which the shares were sold at $20 and that the first day of trading shows shares trading at $23.5, with 20 million shares sold. The initial IPO in dollars was $400,000,000 and at the end of the first trading day this amount goes down to $470,000,000, inducing an amount of money left on the table of $70,000,000.
The U.S. probably has the most active IPO market in the world, by number of companies going public and by the aggregate amount of capital raised. Over long periods of time, underpricing in the U.S. averages between 10 and 20 percent, but there is a substantial degree of variation over time. There are occasional periods when the average IPO is overpriced, and there are periods when companies go public at quite substantial discounts to their aftermarket trading value. In 1999 and 2000, for instance, the average IPO was underpriced by 71% and 57%, respectively. In dollar terms, U.S. issuers left an aggregate of $62 billion on the table in those two years alone. Such periods are often called “hot issue markets”. Given these vast amounts of money left on the table, it is surprising that issuers appear to put so little pressure on underwriters to change the way IPOs are priced. A recent counterexample, however, is Google’s IPO which unusually for a U.S. IPO, was priced using an auction.
Why Has IPO Underpricing Changed over Time?
Underpricing is the difference between the price of a stock when it is first offered on the public market (the offer price) and the price at which it trades after it has been publicly traded (the first-day return). Various authors note that underpricing has traditionally been seen as a way for firms to signal quality to potential investors, which helps them to attract more investors and raise more capital.
In their study “Why Has IPO Underpricing Changed over Time? “, authors Tim Loughran and Jay Ritter discuss how the magnitude of underpricing has varied over time. They note that the average underpricing was particularly high in the 1970s and 1980s, with average first-day returns of around 45%. However, they also find that underpricing has declined significantly since then, with average first-day returns now hovering around 10%.
They then analyze the reasons for this decline in underpricing. They argue that the increased availability of information has made it easier for potential investors to assess a company’s quality prior to investing, thus reducing the need for firms to signal quality through underpricing. Additionally, they suggest that increased transparency and reduced costs of capital have also contributed to the decline in underpricing. Finally, they suggest that improved liquidity has made it easier for firms to raise capital without relying on underpricing.
These changes in underpricing have affected both existing and potential investors. Main arguments are that existing shareholders may benefit from reduced underpricing because it reduces the amount of money that is taken out of their pockets when a company goes public. On the other hand, potential investors may be disadvantaged by reduced underpricing because it reduces the return they can expect from investing in an IPO.
In conclusion we can note that while underpricing has declined significantly over time, there is still some evidence of underpricing in today’s markets. It suggests that further research is needed to understand why this is the case and how it affects investors. Many argue that research should focus on how different types of IPOs are affected by changes in underpricing, as well as on how different industries are affected by these changes. Additionally, they suggest that researchers should investigate how different investor groups are affected by these changes, such as institutional investors versus retail investors.
Overall, studies provide valuable insight into why IPO underpricing has changed so dramatically over the past four decades and how these changes have affected both existing shareholders and potential investors. It provides convincing evidence that increased access to information, greater transparency, reduced costs of capital, and improved liquidity have all contributed to the decline in underpricing. While it is clear that underpricing has declined significantly over time, further research is needed to understand why some IPOs still exhibit underpricing today and what effect this may have on different investor groups.
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Ljungqvist A. (2004) IPO Underpricing: A Survey, Handbook in corporate finance: empirical corporate finance, Edited by B. Espen Eckbo.
Loughran T. and J. Ritter (2004) Why Has IPO Underpricing Changed over Time? Financial Management, 33(3), 5-37.
Ellul A. and M. Pagano (2006) IPO Underpricing and After-Market Liquidity The Review of Financial Studies, 19(2), 381-421.
About the author
The article was written in January 2023 by Martin VAN DER BORGHT (ESSEC Business School, Master in Finance, 2022-2024).