When a private company first sells shares of stock to the public, this process is known as an initial public offering (IPO). In essence, an IPO means that a company's ownership is transitioning from private ownership to public ownership.

What is an IPO

An initial public offering (IPO) or stock launch is a public offering in which shares of a company are sold to institutional investors[1] and usually also to retail (individual) investors.[2] An IPO is typically underwritten by one or more investment banks, who also arrange for the shares to be listed on one or more stock exchanges. Through this process, colloquially known as floating, or going public, a privately held company is transformed into a public company. Initial public offerings can be used to raise new equity capital for companies, to monetize the investments of private shareholders such as company founders or private equity investors, and to enable easy trading of existing holdings or future capital raising by becoming publicly traded.

After the IPO, shares are traded freely in the open market at what is known as the free float. Stock exchanges stipulate a minimum free float both in absolute terms (the total value as determined by the share price multiplied by the number of shares sold to the public) and as a proportion of the total share capital (i.e., the number of shares sold to the public divided by the total shares outstanding). Although IPO offers many benefits, there are also significant costs involved, chiefly those associated with the process such as banking and legal fees, and the ongoing requirement to disclose important and sometimes sensitive information.

Details of the proposed offering are disclosed to potential purchasers in the form of a lengthy document known as a prospectus. Most companies undertake an IPO with the assistance of an investment banking firm acting in the capacity of an underwriter. Underwriters provide several services, including help with correctly assessing the value of shares (share price) and establishing a public market for shares (initial sale). Alternative methods such as the Dutch auction have also been explored and applied for several IPOs.

IPO Advantages

When a company lists its securities on a public exchange, the money paid by the investing public for the newly issued shares goes directly to the company (primary offering) as well as to any early private investors who opt to sell all or a portion of their holdings (secondary offerings) as part of the larger IPO. An IPO, therefore, allows a company to tap into a wide pool of potential investors to provide itself with capital for future growth, repayment of the debt, or working capital. A company selling common shares is never required to repay the capital to its public investors. Those investors must endure the unpredictable nature of the open market to price and trade their shares. After the IPO, when shares are traded in the market, money passes between public investors. For early private investors who choose to sell shares as part of the IPO process, the IPO represents an opportunity to monetize their investment. After the IPO, once shares are traded in the open market, investors holding large blocks of shares can either sell those shares piecemeal in the open market or sell a large block of shares directly to the public, at a fixed price, through a secondary market offering. This type of offering is not dilutive since no new shares are being created. Stock prices can change dramatically during a company's first days in the public market.

Once a company is publicly listed, it is able to issue additional common shares in a number of different ways, one of which is the follow-on offering. This method provides capital for various corporate purposes through the issuance of equity (see stock dilution) without incurring any debt. This ability to quickly raise potentially large amounts of capital from the marketplace is a key reason many companies seek to go public.

An IPO accords several benefits to the previously private company:

    Enlarging and diversifying equity base

    Enabling cheaper access to capital

    Increasing exposure, prestige, and public image

    Attracting and retaining better management and employees through liquid equity participation

    Facilitating acquisitions (potentially in return for shares of stock)

    Creating multiple financing opportunities: equity, convertible debt, cheaper bank loans, etc.

    Benefits for pre-IPO owners in the form of Tax Receivable Agreements

IPO Disadvantages

There are several disadvantages to completing an initial public offering:

    Significant legal, accounting, and marketing costs, many of which are ongoing

    Requirement to disclose financial and business information

    Meaningful time, effort, and attention required of management

    Risk that required funding will not be raised

    Public dissemination of information that may be useful to competitors, suppliers and customers.

    Loss of control and stronger agency problems due to new shareholders

    Increased risk of litigation, including private securities class actions and shareholder derivative actions

What is a SPAC

A special purpose acquisition company (SPAC), also known as a "blank check company", is a shell corporation listed on a stock exchange with the purpose of acquiring a private company, thus making it public without going through the traditional initial public offering process and the associated regulations thereof.

According to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), SPACs are created specifically to pool funds to finance a future merger or acquisition opportunity within a set timeframe; these opportunities usually have yet to be identified while raising funds.

In the United States, SPACs are registered with the SEC and considered publicly-traded companies; the general public may buy their shares on stock exchanges before any merger or acquisition takes place. For this reason they have at times been referred to as the "poor man's private equity funds". The majority of companies pursuing SPACs do so on the Nasdaq or New York Stock Exchange in the United States, although other exchanges, such as the Euronext Amsterdam, Singapore Exchange, and Hong Kong Stock Exchange, have also overseen a small volume of SPAC deals.

Despite the popularity and growth in the number of SPACs, academic analysis shows investor returns on SPAC companies post-merger are almost uniformly negative, although investors in SPACs and merged companies with may earn excess returns immediately after the merger. Proliferation of SPACs usually accelerates around periods of economic bubbles, such as the "everything bubble" between 2020 and 2021.

Egg on Face(book)

There will be investigations and already there are lawsuits over Facebook's overhyped IPO, but no investigation is necessary into the reason for the outrage over the stock's rapid fall. It's called human nature

IPO Activity Is Up, But Examine Each Offering Carefully

In a year of other IPO gains by familiar names such as Hyatt Hotels (H) and Vitamin Shoppe (VSI), the average first-day IPO price "pop" has been 7 percent and the average overall return 10 percent. But don't get the impression we've returned to the wild-and-crazy IPO markets of the past.