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NYSE challenges Nasdaq’s reign as king of the tech IPO

Nicole Bullock
Pedestrians walk past an American flag displayed outside of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York.
Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Ever since high-profile tech listings burst into the public imagination more than two decades ago, the Nasdaq stock exchange has been synonymous with the online giants that have helped define the modern era.

But in little over a year Nasdaq's cross-town rivals at the New York Stock Exchange have landed the two highest-profile listings: the $3.9bn raised by messaging app Snapchat's parent in March 2017 and the listing of music streaming service Spotify this month.

That has raised questions over who is the new king of the tech IPO at a time the stakes are expected to get even bigger.

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The expectation on Wall Street is that the trickle of deals in 2018 could gather pace in the coming years, with companies such as Uber and Airbnb trading in their private status for a jump into the public market.

Brian Chesky, CEO and Co-founder of Airbnb
Mike Segar | Reuters

John Tuttle, head of listings at NYSE, admits the exchange was "slow to catch on" as a series of now high-profile companies such as Amazon listed on Nasdaq. Nasdaq suffered a black eye with Facebook's 2012 IPO in which technical mishaps contributed to a delayed and chaotic opening for the stock, further encouraging the NYSE.

The exchange, which is owned by the Intercontinental Exchange, ultimately caught on to the idea that tech companies would be new titans of industry, changed its listing standards and began aggressively recruiting in Silicon Valley. NYSE's share of the number of tech deals has boomed from the single digits in the late 1990s to 52 per cent from 2013 to 2015, according to Dealogic.

"NYSE was always home to innovative companies — tech is the next phase in innovation," said Mr Tuttle. "We modernised our listing standards to meet the demands of companies in the 21st century."

In January, NYSE recruited Jose Cobos, a San Francisco banker and former Navy Seal to lead its charge for tech listings. NYSE also modified its rules for direct listings in February, a move it hopes sets the stage for other tech "decacorns", or unicorns valued at $10bn or more, that may want to try Spotify's approach and list its shares without raising any new money.

Nasdaq has not been without recent successes. Cloud storage company Dropbox picked Nasdaq when it raised $869m in a flotation last month. And at its headquarters in Times Square, Nasdaq has given exchange veteran Nelson Griggs oversight of its corporation solutions business, which sells companies investor relations and board services, as well as listings, to solidify part of the Nasdaq's pitch to companies of both offerings.

"The rationale to combine them is that in many cases they have the same end customer: corporate CEOs, CFOs as well as board members," Mr Griggs said.

Although NYSE dominated in 2017 with 51 per cent of deals and 80 per cent of money raised, Nasdaq captured 85 per cent of tech listings in 2016 and so far this year is leading with 54 per cent, Dealogic data show.

"The numbers point to the fact that we are recovering from Facebook," said Mr Griggs, president Nasdaq stock exchange.

Martin Ollman | Getty Images

A breakdown of the figures shows that the average IPO size for the NYSE is higher than Nasdaq. Although Nasdaq has gained more tech listings — 183 for Nasdaq versus 160 for NYSE since 2010 — NYSE has won the bigger tech IPOs in recent years. All told, the tech listings on NYSE have raised $74.4bn since 2010 compared with $49.6bn for Nasdaq.

NYSE and Nasdaq retain different listing standards, which can affect decision making. NYSE listing fees for companies are capped at $500,000 a year versus $155,000 a year at Nasdaq.

Both Spotify and Dropbox declined to comment, but executives of other tech companies indicated the choice of exchange is a personal one.

Tien Tzuo, the chief executive of Zuora, which sells software that enables companies to transform into subscription businesses, said its customers, which include Caterpillar, were increasingly NYSE-listed and "it was important to be there with them".

By contrast, Rob Bernshteyn, chief executive of Coupa, said Nasdaq helped the provider of spending management services for companies to make valuable contacts. "I was introduced to John Chambers [the former executive chairman of Cisco Systems] and it developed into a mentoring relationship," he said.

The pageantry of NYSE's storied digs in Manhattan's financial district and the thrill of ringing the opening bell on listing day count for some. For Mr Bernshteyn, it was important to have as many colleagues with him as possible. NYSE has a limit of 14 guests on its podium largely because of fire code reasons, while up to 75 can share the Nasdaq stage for the market open in Times Square.

While listing fees are not a major contributor to the revenues of either Nasdaq or NYSE's parent ICE, victory in the battle for tech listings is not a pyrrhic one. The close of daily trading in a company's shares must happen at the home exchange, and with the proliferation of index-based investing and exchange traded funds, a higher volume of trading has gravitated to the end of the day.

Yet if more tech unicorns do go public, the big prize for these competing exchanges may ultimately be something far more intangible: branding.

"If you are NYSE and Nasdaq and you cannot get anyone to list on your venue," said Kyle Martin, a research analyst at Westwood Holdings, "who are you?"

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