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Music IPOs Lose Their Beat

Peter Dazeley| Photographer's Choice | Getty Images

Investors like these public offerings because of the “cool” factor. Music is cool. Making money on music is even cooler. Unfortunately, these music stocks can hit some off-key notes, leaving investors in the awkward position of clapping for an encore that never comes.

The legendary Fender name is the latest rock star now appearing on the initial public offering calendar. What stock could be cooler than this iconic guitar maker? It’s No. 1 in its market and has links to the birth of rock and roll. Fenders were the preferred strumming instruments of Buddy Holly, Kurt Cobain, and Jimi Hendrix. Even today Fender is associated with big-named artists; among the brands they own is the EVH line of guitars (that’s Eddie van Halen for the uninitiated.)

Top-line growth has picked up in the past few years with net sales rising to $700 million in 2011 from $612 million in 2009. The company saw a year-over-year increase of $3 million in the first quarter of 2012.

Most of Fender’s sales come from outside the U.S. The company plans on expanding even further in China and India, and has done well fighting off competition from Gibson, another legendary name.

Fender’s biggest problem is its biggest customer, retailer Guitar Center. That single client accounts for 15 percent of its sales. Moody’s recently downgraded Guitar Center and said the company could default on its debt. That scenario would be bad news for Fender, which is currently owed $11 million by Guitar Center.

Fender has also hurt itself by relying on limited sources for their raw materials. The provider of a special paint used on the guitars, for instance, unexpectedly went out of business. Fender also uses exotic woods that have come under scrutiny from the preservationists, and its amp tubes — the source of the big electronic sound — are produced in places like China, Russia, and the Czech Republic.

Fender is seeking to sell $150 million in the IPO, and it plans to use its share of the proceeds, which it estimates as netting out at $88.2 million, to pay down a portion of its term loan. Currently, 64 percent of its earnings go to paying interest on roughly $257 million in total debt. It is taking advantage of the JOBS Act and defining itself as an “emerging growth company.” That means no Sarbanes-Oxley auditor attestation, reduced disclosure of executive pay, and no say-on-pay votes.

The company is expected to price its offering next week, selling a total of 10.7 million shares at between $13 and $15 each. A shareholder is selling 3.6 million of those shares.

You may feel like a rock star buying Fender stock and, who knows, there’s always a chance its shares will soar like Led Zeppelin's “Stairway to Heaven.” But, given the size of that debt load and the questions surrounding its biggest customer, it’s probably wiser to hold off on humming a happy tune just yet.

—By TheStreet.com’s Debra Borchardt

Additional News: Fender IPO Is Seen Valuing Guitar Maker Near $395 Million

Additional Views: Vintage Guitar Prices Bid for a Comeback

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