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Global IPOs begin 2021 at breakneck pace

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Listings on stock markets around the world are running at a record pace, with both deal numbers and values at their highest levels for the start of any year in at least two decades.

This year, 875 initial public offerings each raising at least $1m have been clinched globally, according to data from Dealogic that cover the last 26 years. That figure far outstrips the previous record set in the final months of the dotcom boom in 2000, when 592 companies raised $1m or more in floats over the same time period.

The deluge of listings has lifted IPO proceeds to a record-setting $230bn this year, well above the previous peak of $80bn set in 2000.

The boom stems largely from a spree of flotations of shell companies known as special purpose acquisition companies, or Spacs, which have accounted for almost half of the fundraising haul through IPOs in 2021. Spacs have no underlying business and instead raise capital to pursue a merger with a privately held business.

But the rise in IPOs also reflects enduring demand for global listings in a year when markets have rallied to new highs, with marquee names such as South Korean ecommerce company Coupang and US dating app Bumble making public debuts.

Globally, proceeds from IPOs in 2021 have already surpassed the full-year totals for 21 of the past 26 years.

Column chart of Number of IPOs, by type showing The number of companies going public has ballooned

“The numbers are encouraging because they’re evidence that people have renewed confidence that public markets are a good way to exit their business,” said Carlton Nelson, co-head of corporate broking at Investec. “It shows that they don’t have to tap into private capital despite it being easier and more efficient than it has been for a long time.”

The listings have been heavily tilted to the US, where Spacs had flourished before running into trouble in recent weeks. Roughly two-thirds of the $230bn of capital raised this year has been through listings in the country. China and Hong Kong have trailed in distant second and third places as the preferred choice for new listings, accounting for 8 per cent and 5 per cent of IPO proceeds, respectively.

Column chart of Global initial public offering proceeds ($bn) showing Companies and Spacs have raised $230bn through IPOs in 2021

Among the big debuts already this year have been SoftBank-backed Coupang, which along with selling shareholders raised $4.6bn, and TikTok’s video-sharing rival Kuaishou, which raised $6.2bn in its Hong Kong listing. Food delivery app Deliveroo also made headlines with its London IPO, which raised $2bn for the company and early backers but was ultimately panned by new investors.

Other large listings are already in the queue, including entertainment group Endeavor, Jessica Alba’s consumer goods business Honest Co and stock trading app Robinhood.

The data do not include direct listings, where companies decline to raise capital when they go public, meaning cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase’s blockbuster debut on the Nasdaq earlier this month is not counted in the figures.

Chris Nicholls, who leads Deloitte’s UK IPO and equity advisory team, said he believed the rest of the year looked promising for a spate of new listings.

“As you see economies emerging from lockdown, there should be a period of strong [economic] growth, which bodes well for this wave continuing for a while longer,” he added.

A key question is how much air will come out of the Spac phenomenon, which ballooned in popularity last year but has “slowed meaningfully” in recent weeks, according to strategists with Goldman Sachs.

Bar chart of Cash raised through initial public offerings, by company nationality ($bn) showing Roughly two-thirds of IPO proceeds have been raised in the US

Staff of the Securities and Exchange Commission earlier this month promised closer scrutiny of the revenue and profit projections from companies that use the vehicles to go public, and the number of new Spac listings has plummeted.

Still, the global economic reopening after the coronavirus pandemic is likely to prompt companies to pursue flotations, Investec’s Nelson said.

“IPOs have a long gestation period, it’s not just when the starting gun has been fired,” he added. “It’s really encouraging to see companies of all shapes and sizes starting those conversations now, even if it’s for a few years’ time in the future.”



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Electric vehicle Spacs: Lordstown hits its city limits

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If Lordstown was one of its own electric pick-up trucks, it would have conked out a couple of feet from the charging point. The US group has warned it could fail as a business, running out of cash before even starting commercial production.

Lordstown only listed via a $1.6bn Spac takeover last October. The wheels are coming off fast. That confirms the weakness of the business models of many electric vehicle companies. US markets exuberantly chose to overlook these when the groups listed, excited by the overblown forecasts permitted once a company lists via a takeover by a special purpose acquisition vehicle.

A two-thirds collapse in Lordstown’s shares since February is further validation for Hindenburg Research, which last year took a successful swipe at electric freight truckmaker Nikola. The short seller questioned Lordstown’s sales figures in March. Last month, the company said production of its $52,500 Endurance pick-up truck this year would be “at best” just half prior expectations of 2,200 units.

At least 18 electric vehicle and battery companies went public via Spac deals from the start of 2020, raising a combined $6.6bn from investors, according to Refinitiv. Few of these companies generate significant revenues. Many of them have missed targets.

Shares in Canoo are more than 50 per cent below a December peak after ditching many of its goals. XL Fleet has lost even more of its value after it abandoned guidance for 2021 revenue.

Traditional automakers have rebounded. General Motors shares are up by a half since the start of the year, for example.

The Spac listing process is partly to blame for over-promising by EV makers. It enabled them to publish very optimistic financial projections, compared to what is permitted in a traditional IPO.

Investment often involves backing what sceptics see as a long shot. Tesla took years to hit production targets and turn a profit. The added problem for investors now is that EV production has become a crowded field. Heavy research is required to identify a hot prospect among the no hopers. Extra scepticism applies to businesses listed via a Spac.

The Lex team is interested in hearing more from readers. Please tell us what you think of Lordstown and other EV Spacs in the comments section below.



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Shares in group linked to China’s Three Gorges Dam surge on debut

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China Three Gorges Renewables Group’s stock surged by 44 per cent on its debut after the company raised $3.6bn in China’s largest initial public offering of 2021.

Shares in the renewable energy arm of China Three Gorges Corp, the state-owned company that lends its name to the hydropower dam on the Yangtze river, shot up the maximum daily amount permitted by the Shanghai stock exchange on Thursday.

The group raised Rmb22.7bn ($3.6bn) in its IPO, the largest equity debut in the country since a $7.6bn share sale by China’s biggest chipmaker, Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation, last July. The first day jump pushed the company’s market capitalisation to $17.1bn, according to Bloomberg.

The day one pop for China Three Gorges Renewables, which also has interests in wind power, came as China faces a sharp rise in the cost of coal-fired power.

The move reflected strong appetite from Chinese investors for green energy assets as Beijing seeks to make wind a far greater contributor to the country’s electricity output, said Bruce Pang, head of research for investment bank China Renaissance.

“It’s not just a trend in China — it’s a trend across the world,” Pang said.

Demand for shares in the IPO outstripped supply 78 times, according to the company.

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The group will use part of the share sale proceeds to cover almost half the cost of seven offshore wind turbine projects, as it and other renewables companies rush to complete infrastructure before government subsidies expire at the end of the year.

“We anticipate China Three Gorges will strive to finish the projects this year in order to receive the subsidies,” said Apple Li, a credit analyst at S&P Global Ratings.

The credit rating agency said this week that the IPO would provide a significant injection to the balance sheet of parent group China Three Gorges as the subsidiary pursues an “ambitious non-hydro renewables development plan” over the next few years.

China Three Gorges Renewables on Tuesday launched its first floating offshore wind power platform off the coast of Zhejiang province in south-eastern China. The company said the platform could deliver “green and clean energy for 30,000 households a year”.

Unlike fixed wind turbines, which can only operate in shallow waters, floating turbines can generate electricity further offshore, harnessing the power of stronger ocean winds. 

In September, China committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2060, but its industry-fuelled recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic has put pressure on its environmental ambitions. In 2020, it produced record amounts of steel and increased approvals for new coal plants.

Research last year led by Wang Muyi, an analyst at UK think-tank Ember, found that new wind, hydro, solar and nuclear energy investments could not keep up with a sharp rise in electricity use in China between May and October.

The country is also suffering from a shortage of coal as industrial activity booms, pushing up prices. Last month, a state council meeting chaired by Premier Li Keqiang emphasised the need to further tap China’s “rich coal resources”, but added that the capacity of wind, solar, nuclear and hydropower would be increased to ensure energy supply this summer.

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French music group Believe stumbles on market debut

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Shares in music group Believe, which has set out to create a novel music label for the streaming era, fell more than 17 per cent on its first day of trading, in what is likely to be a blow for the French market as it tries to recover from pandemic volatility.

Believe, whose brands include New-York based platform TuneCore and its own family of labels, reached a valuation of €1.53bn as its shares closed at €16 on Thursday, down from the offer price of €19.50.

The flotation marks the first technology listing on the Euronext Paris bourse since 2014, when online payments group Worldline went public, and is among roughly 30 flotations in the pipeline of the Paris market.

Believe had already priced its initial public offering at the bottom of its scaled-back price range, of between €19.50 and €22.50 a share, which would have given the group a market value of €1.9bn to €2.1bn.

The disappointing response to the listing is a setback for the Paris market, which is trying to establish itself as a location for IPOs and foster the growth of tech companies. The fact Believe is in a fast-growing sector that is popular among investors is likely to add salt to the wound. 

The slip in Believe’s valuation on its debut follows a weak run for tech flotations this year after Deliveroo’s shares fell 26 per cent on the company’s first day of trading in March, wiping almost £2bn from its opening £7.6bn market capitalisation.

Commodities broker Marex Spectron and Parts Holding Europe, a French distributor of car parts, pulled their planned IPOs this month because of turbulent market conditions.

Other French IPOs lined up for this year include OVH, a cloud computing provider, and Aramis, the online seller of second-hand cars that is a unit of carmaker Stellantis.

New investors in Believe include French mutual fund Fonds Stratégique de Participations and Sycomore Asset Management, which specialises in responsible investment.

Believe has been valued at a multiple of roughly half that of other music majors such as Warner Music Group and Universal on an enterprise value-to-sales basis for 2022, according to a person close to the company. It is about two-thirds that of Spotify.

The person said the limited level of free float shares — at only 15 per cent — damped the share price, although they acknowledged Believe’s atypical model also made investors cautious.

“It’s a hot market and a very attractive model, a lot of investors acknowledged that, but in the end [Believe] looks a bit like the underdog in this market,” they said. “There is a wait-and-see attitude from some investors.”

Founded in 2005, Believe has been looking to capitalise on growing enthusiasm for the music sector, which has returned to growth after two decades in decline. 

Believe works with independent musicians and music labels to build popularity via social media and put their work on streaming music platforms. These include newcomers and more established artists, such as French rapper Jul, UK artist La Roux and Lebanese singer Nancy Ajram.

The company, which serves more than 850,000 artists, intends to use the €300m it has raised to expand into new countries, both through organic growth and further acquisitions.



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