As stocks swing violently, a chill is beginning to settle on the initial public offering market.
A small number of companies have already retreated on their offering plans. WageWorks, an employee benefits provider, pushed its offering, originally scheduled for Friday, to next week and dropped its target price range by as much as 43 percent. Two real estate investment trusts, Orchid Island Capital and Eola Property Trust, have withdrawn their filings. And Old Mutual, a big South African insurance company, said on Friday that it was now unlikely to go public in the United States before the end of next year because of market conditions.
For volatility is the enemy of the I.P.O. market. The ripples could spread, affecting even larger offerings this year, including some hotly awaited Internet offerings, as well as the sales of government-owned shares in companies like the American International Group , General Motors and the lender Ally Financial .
Ally may prove to be the most difficult, with the Treasury Department and its underwriters having postponed its initial public offering in June. The former G.M. financing arm may now seek to go public in September, though that is looking unlikely given the recent market swings, according to a person briefed on the matter.
Yet A.I.G.’s chief executive, Robert H. Benmosche, professed little worry about the current market conditions’ effect on the insurer’s next stock offering. “We’re going to make that decision in November,” he said in an interview on Friday. (See video for more of Benmosche's outlook)
Still, when there are jitters in the market, offerings are vulnerable.
“Until volatility settles, we’re not going to see a lot of I.P.O. launches,” said Brian Reilly, head of United States equity capital markets at Barclays Capital, referring to the moment a company sets its price range and starts a road show to court investors.
One measure of market volatility, the Chicago Board Options Exchange Volatility Index, or VIX — known as Wall Street’s fear gauge — on Friday reached its highest level since May 2010. That degree of uncertainty makes it difficult for companies to price their offerings and for investors to feel confident that they can generate meaningful returns.
“The best advice for most clients is to wait for volatility to calm down,” Mr. Reilly said.
The sharp jitters in the market threaten a broad range of deals on Wall Street, including acquisitions, which can be ultrasensitive to price fluctuations in the equity markets. But the current roller coaster may be particularly damaging to the offerings market, analysts say, which is still recovering from the financial crisis, when it was virtually moribund.
Although demand for offerings in the United States has been somewhat uneven, the market has shown signs of strength. So far this year, the number of offerings is up nearly 15 percent, to 93, while proceeds have more than doubled to $28.5 billion, according to data from Renaissance Capital, a firm that advises on stock offerings.
A lot of that growth can be traced to the technology sector, which has produced some of the most highly anticipated public offerings, like the online music service Pandora Media and LinkedIn , the social network for professionals. When LinkedIn went public in May, it raised more than $350 million and its shares surged 109 percent on their first day of trading.
Scott Olson/Getty ImagesProlonged and severe market turbulence could batter the offerings of even the most popular start-ups, like Groupon.
LinkedIn’s success was seen to be a curtain raiser to a string of even larger Internet blockbusters. The popular games maker Zynga and Groupon, a daily coupon Web site, have recently filed to go public. Facebook, the world’s largest social network, is on track to file within the next eight months, at a valuation north of $100 billion, according to people close to the matter.
These popular start-ups, which have been heavily traded on secondary markets, were largely seen as immune to market turbulence because of the feverish demand for their shares. But a prolonged severe period of volatility could eventually drag down these companies too, analysts say, forcing management and bankers to revise timelines and trim valuations.
“You can’t sit here with a high valuation, when everything else is crashing around you,” said Kathleen Smith, a principal at Renaissance. “Even Facebook may have a hard time getting its offering done at a premium.”
For now, the hope is that the economy calms down by September, when the stock offering market restarts in earnest after a traditionally slow August.
“Thank goodness it’s August,” said Horace Nash, a partner at Fenwick & West, a prestigious Silicon Valley law firm. “In the medium term, it’s pretty unpredictable, but it’s not going to kill a filed transaction.”
Though Mr. Nash still believes the largest offerings exist in a silo apart from the rest of the technology sector, he says instability will most likely sway their valuations. “That would really put the sand in the gears,” he said.
David J. Abella, a portfolio manager with Rochdale Investment Management, says he is closely watching the markets and has already lowered his price expectations based on the broader market declines. He foresees a stark divide in the market, where offerings from well-known brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Zynga perform well, but the rest of the market struggles to find its footing.
“If I’m able to get an allocation from a top-tier name, I will generally be a buyer,” he said. “In this market, you might not get the same upside as LinkedIn, but it will probably still be attractive.”
Mr. Abella says his firm will not buy shares from top tier names on the first day of trading and will be especially wary of debt-laden, private-equity-backed offerings, which he predicts will suffer in this environment.
Investor confidence will be put to the test once again next week, with 12 companies expected to go public in the final push before the late-summer lull. WageWorks is back, along with Trustwave Holdings, an enterprise software company, and HomeStreet, a modest-sized regional bank. If all go public, it will be the best showing since 2007. But few expect next week to go without a hitch.
“Some may do better than expected, but it’s gotten a lot riskier,” Mr. Abella said.