THE DAY AHEAD: Questions cloud IPO market

Larry Dignan
3 min read

The initial public offering season kicks off Friday, but the optimism that surrounded the 2000 IPO season is waning. A bullish outlook has been tempered by a glut of new issues, market volatility and too many "me too" offerings.

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"The market is overburdened with stocks that are part of the herd" said David Menlow of IPOfinancial.com, in a recent interview with ZDII. Menlow predicts "the IPO market will implode in early February, if it makes it that long."

Menlow's prediction may be a bit extreme, but he's not that far off the mark.

According to Renaissance Capital, there are at least 165 deals in the IPO pipeline. We'll be generous and assume half of those are a complete joke, another quarter of the companies are questionable and the remainder have a shot of being long-term contenders.

Factor in market volatility and the fact that few of the new offerings are category leaders and the IPO market may be in trouble.

Many of the companies going public are apparently concerned. Just days ago, this week was expected to feature the first wave of IPOs. It now looks like it's going to be a trickle. Neoforma.com (Proposed ticker: NEOF, profile) seems to be the only company going public this week.

Neoforma.com sells medical equipment online and is unique enough to get some attention. It'll also be the lab rat for a bunch of IPOs in the wings.

If Neoforma.com doesn't get a nice first day pop, other companies may postpone or adjust pricing. The week of Jan. 24 will be more telling because there are 17 companies slated to go public, but few of those IPOs have confirmed dates. Seems no one wants to take the plunge.

Is this an train wreck on the horizon? Here are some reasons the IPO market could implode:

  • Market volatility: It's hard to ignore that the Nasdaq is up 100 points one day and down another 150 points the next day. Tech shares are bouncing all over as the Federal Reserve ponders its next interest rate move.

    Highflyers such as FreeMarkets (Nasdaq: FMKT), Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and plenty of others have been hit by choppy trading. IPOs with poor fundamentals look especially vulnerable with today's volalility.

  • Me too offerings: There aren't a lot of original ideas out there. Many offerings on the calendar qualify under the "me too" category. These companies are chasing buzzwords such as Linux and business-to-business e-commerce and hoping no one notices the weak fundamentals.

    Of course, there are some sure bets coming up. 3Com's (Nasdaq: COMS) Palm Computing unit (Proposed ticker: PALM) will do well and first movers such as WebMethods (Proposed ticker: WEBM), an XML developer, will shine. But for every unique company, there's a B2bstores.com or another wannabe looking to cash in.

  • Too many issues: Last year's December IPO rush encouraged a host of companies to file to go public. Many of these companies aren't ready for primetime even by Internet standards. If there's enough market volatility many pending IPOs will postpone and alleviate things. If the markets hold up, companies will contribute to an oversupply of new issues.

    Don't underestimate the problems that could arise from a glut. Investors will hop from IPO to IPO and many companies will simply drop from the radar.