It is typical for companies to delay their initial public offerings when the market for them is weak, but the unprecedented year that is 2020 is ending with companies delaying IPOs because the market is too strong.
Gaming company Roblox Inc. RBLX, and lending company Affirm Holdings Inc. AFRM, both opted to delay their IPOs that were planned for this December, following big first-day surges for Airbnb Inc. ABNB, -2.01% and DoorDash Inc. DASH, +0.15% shares. The huge initial pops for Airbnb and DoorDash suggest those companies left a lot of money on the table, and Roblox and Affirm are reportedly seeing whether they can better cash in on continuing strong demand for IPOs in 2021.
The delays were a suitable end to an unbelievable 2020 for IPOs, with young technology companies and blank-check offerings leading to the biggest year for Wall Street debuts since the heyday of the dot-com boom, despite a pandemic. In all, it was the best IPO year in terms of deal count and capital raises since the 1990s, according to data compiled by PricewaterhouseCoopers, with 183 traditional IPOs and 242 SPAC deals raising slightly more than $150 billion in total.
The 2020 IPO market is also notable for the depth of billion-dollar deals, PwC’s IPO lead David Ethridge told MarketWatch. More than 20 companies raked in at least $1 billion through their offerings in 2020, led by Bill Ackman’s $4 billion special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC, and capital raises topping $3 billion from Airbnb, DoorDash and database software company Snowflake Inc. SNOW, -2.60%.
Few would have predicted that a period accompanied by global economic woes brought on by a pandemic, elevated unemployment and high market volatility would also be highly conducive to IPOs, Ethridge said, but other dynamics could keep the IPO market roaring through 2021, in his view. He points to an accommodative interest-rate policy from the Federal Reserve that’s expected to persist for years, as well as positive developments on the vaccine front that could give the economy a jolt.
By postponing their offerings, Roblox and Affirm have time to file amended paperwork with the Securities and Exchange Commission that could enable them to either sell more shares or sell the same amount of shares for a much higher price, according to James Angel, a finance professor at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business. But the companies are in a “high-stakes poker game,” he continued, since the SEC is reportedly backed up with paperwork and there’s no telling how long the IPO market will stay this hot.
Many companies are betting it will stay hot, with a rush of confidential and public IPO filings at the end of 2020 setting up a stacked slate of 2021 IPO candidates. Food-delivery company Instacart, clothing marketplace Poshmark POSH, , retail-trading platform Robinhood and software company UiPath are among the hottest names predicted to go public in the year ahead.
Those companies could face many other offers, however, especially from SPACs that have raised billions of dollars in 2020 in hopes of acquiring companies. SPACs proved “the perfect product for the time” as people looked to pour money into the equity markets this year, PwC’s Ethridge said.
“This is the year of the SPAC,” he told MarketWatch, with 2020 alone accounting for more than half of all SPAC deals over the past decade.
The coming months could feature a “private-to-public pop” in which companies that didn’t plan to IPO for two or so years end up going public via the SPAC route, according to Scott Galloway, a marketing professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“You have $200 billion in capital out there hunting,” he told MarketWatch.
The options companies face as they consider going public were obvious in the case of Postmates, which navigated through SPAC offers, the IPO process and acquisition offers from competitors before deciding to merge with delivery rival Uber Technologies Inc. UBER, -1.55% earlier this year. MKM Partners analyst Rohit Kulkarni expects a “barbell-based approach,” in which smaller tech companies go public through SPACs, larger ones go public through IPOs, and a few large brand-name tech companies consider direct listings, as Palantir Technologies Inc. PLTR, -3.28% used when it went public in September without raising new funds.
The current environment could continue to see more private equity-backed companies come to market as well. A year ago, “people were talking about when we might see a recession, but you don’t hear any talk of that now because of where people see interest-rate policy now,” Ethridge said. That creates a more attractive setup for private-equity companies, in his view, since they normally don’t sell their shares at the time of an IPO but rather look to sell over time at higher prices.
“When you don’t think there’s going to be a recession, that’s a much more amenable forecast,” he said.
Here are some of the companies expected to attempt the 2021 journey to the hot IPO market before it cools down:
The pandemic cast a new shine on some consumer-facing tech companies. Just a year ago, the food-delivery space was viewed as unattractive due to intense competition, a heavy reliance on subsidies and an enduring lack of profits, but DoorDash gained increased prominence with housebound diners during the COVID-19 crisis. Now investors seem upbeat about what the company will be able to do by combining its ballooning user base with a logistics network that could be used for more than just delivery.
DoorDash raised more than $3.3 billion through its December offering and saw its shares surge 85% on listing day. Companies like it that are benefiting from the stay-at-home trends brought on by the pandemic “will probably continue to do that over the next six to nine months,” said EquityZen Chief Revenue Officer Phil Haslett, since it will take time before a COVID-19 vaccine becomes widely distributed and the economy can fully reopen.
Fellow delivery-oriented company Instacart could follow in DoorDash’s footsteps during 2021. Prior to COVID-19, there was doubt over whether businesses like Instacart would ever be able to reach profitability due to a perceived need to subsidize deliveries, and the open question is “whether the pandemic has changed that,” said Deeksha Gupta, a finance professor at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. The crisis brought in a new base of users who hadn’t tried grocery delivery before, and some of those might stick around even after it becomes easier to resume old shopping habits again.
Another consumer name she’ll be watching out for is Poshmark, which enables people to buy and sell clothes from each other online. The company publicly filed for an IPO on Dec. 17, and was valued at $625 million in a 2017 funding round, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing PitchBook data.
“You can imagine that buying clothes might be something people would do less of during the pandemic,” Gupta said, but “positive news around an end to the pandemic potentially next year” is one factor that could impact investor expectations for how a business like Poshmark could perform as a public company.
Dating-app maker Bumble could also be headed for the public markets, after a strong year for rival Match Group Inc. MTCH, -0.85%. The company has reportedly filed confidential IPO paperwork, according to Bloomberg News, with aims for a February offering. Bumble has been trying to expand beyond the world of online dating with offshoots that let people make networking connections or search for platonic friendships, as the world of online dating is changed by the pandemic.
Robinhood helped make a new generation of investors interested in IPOs, and now the company looks likely to head down the public path itself. The company has reportedly picked Goldman Sachs to lead preparations for a 2021 IPO, according to Reuters. The company fetched a $11.7 billion private-market valuation in September.
Cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase also is expected to seek an IPO amid strong recent rallies for cryptos like bitcoin in recent months. The company fetched a $7.7 billion private-market valuation in October 2018, according to Crunchbase, and announced a confidential IPO filing on Dec. 17.
“Given that companies such as Robinhood and Coinbase are seeing tailwinds through the recession and through the pandemic,” their stories could become “much more compelling,” MKM’s Kulkarni told MarketWatch.
The buy-now-pay-later trend gained steam in the U.S. as well during the COVID-19 crisis, and that might play out in the IPO market as well. Affirm, which enables consumers to make online purchases in installments, has already filed IPO paperwork. Klarna, a Swedish rival whose investors include Visa Inc. V, +1.66%, may follow in 2021. The company might “do a Spotify SPOT, -0.73% -type thing” and direct-list shares in the U.S., said Santosh Rao, the head of research at Manhattan Venture Partners.
Online-lending company SoFi could also come public, though CNBC reported that the company is looking into the SPAC route. The company, headed by former Twitter Inc. TWTR, -0.61% executive and Goldman Sachs banker Anthony Noto, got its start allowing people to refinance student loans and obtained a $4.8 billion private-market valuation in 2019. SoFi, which is short for Social Finance, has since branched into other areas of financial services, including mortgages and investing.
Stripe, one of the biggest unicorns, finds a place on IPO lists year after year for its sheer size, though Bloomberg News reported in November that the company is reportedly in talks to raise additional funds through the private markets that could value the company at more than $70 billion. Stripe, which enables businesses to accept payments online, was last valued at $36 billion in an April funding round.
While Airbnb and DoorDash took the IPO stage late in the year, the initial boom in pandemic tech offerings belonged to software companies like Snowflake and Unity Software Inc. U, -1.80%. Experts expect many more software startups will be looking for similar riches in 2021, after products like Zoom Video Communications Inc. ZM, -2.27% received higher profiles amid stay-at-home orders.
“COVID is shining a light on companies that are selling software,” EquityZen’s Haslett said, and more businesses in this area could come public next year. Cybersecurity was always a hot area, but he sees another tailwind now that more people are working from home and logging into accounts remotely.
Tanium, a company that makes endpoint-security software, is among the top software candidates for 2021, according to Rao. “Endpoint security is very important especially with all this remote working,” he said. The company announced a new $150 million funding round in October that it said lifted its valuation to over $9 billion.
UiPath, which makes software for robotic process automation, cracks the shortlist for both Rao and Kulkarni. The company was valued at $10.2 billion through a July funding round, and reaching that threshold “feels like last-money-in before a public-market valuation,” Kulkarni said.
Another area having its moment during the COVID-19 crisis is education technology, but there aren’t a lot of public ways to play the trend, said Kevin Landis, the chief investment officer of Firsthand Capital Management. While the educational status quo has been “firmly entrenched” for a long time, the pandemic may prove a tipping point.
Education is “a big, high dam that feels like it needs to break at some point and if it doesn’t after this, it feels like it may not happen in our lifetime,” he told MarketWatch.
Investors may get more public plays on digital educational tools in the year ahead, with Rao listing online-course provider Udemy among potential IPO candidates. The company “has some critical mass at this point,” he said, as it boasts 35 million students, and it got a vote of confidence in November when Tencent Holdings Ltd. 700, -2.63% made an investment that valued the company at more than $3 billion, Bloomberg reported.
EquityZen lists fellow online-course company Coursera on its list of potential IPO candidates. The company raised $130 million in a July funding round, according to The Information.
MarketWatch staff writer Therese Poletti contributed to this article.