Even amidst all the other news crowding the headlines these days, it would be hard to miss the many stories discussing the U.S. initial public offering (“IPO”) market. By now, the trends are well-reported. Many promising U.S. companies are choosing to remain privately held longer and defer their IPOs. The once well-defined stages in a company’s funding life, from friends and family rounds to angel investor rounds to venture capital rounds to IPO have been disrupted. It is not uncommon for a company to remain private for ten to twelve years prior to pursuing an IPO or an M&A exit. As a result, generally, the companies that undertake IPOs are more mature and have a higher median market capitalization at the time of their IPOs than their predecessors in prior periods. There are fewer smaller IPOs. There now are many investors that are willing to invest in privately held companies, including family offices, sovereign wealth funds, venture and private equity funds, and cross-over funds. The valuations available to promising companies in private financing rounds often may be more attractive than the valuations that may result from an IPO. Some of these developments may account for the “unicorn” phenomenon. There are nearly 200 private companies valued by venture capital firms at $1 billion or more and few of these of these companies have taken the plunge and pursued IPOs. Studies indicate that the number of individual investors that own stocks directly has declined and institutional investors are disinclined to invest in small-cap and even smaller mid-cap stocks. Companies are experiencing much of their most significant growth while they are privately held, rather than in the years immediately following their IPOs, and institutional investors that participate in private funding rounds may stand to benefit most from this growth. In light of all of these changes, it is understandable that policymakers are focused on the ways to revive the U.S. IPO market and make regulatory changes that may remove some of the perceived impediments to pursuing public offerings.
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