Register For Our Mailing List

Register to receive our free weekly newsletter including editorials.

Home / 230

IPOs, information asymmetry and house prices

One of the reasons I generally don’t buy into company floats (initial public offerings or IPOs) is a little thing called information asymmetry. This term was popularised after George Akerlof (US Federal Reserve chair Janet Yellen’s husband) wrote a paper in 1970 about the used car market entitled 'The market for lemons'. It earned him a Nobel Prize in 2001.

Why sell a good company?

It’s a fancy term for a simple idea. If the seller of an item is singing its praises, why would they want to sell it? They are the ultimate insiders so they must be selling it for more than what they know it is really worth. The owner knows much more about it than I do? Before I buy anything, I stop and ask myself: What does the seller know that I don’t? If it’s such a good company, why don’t they want to keep it or buy more?

Company floats are an example of how this can often lead to bad outcomes for unwitting buyers, especially where the owners are taking cash out of the float. In some floats, the vendors are the founders, and at other times they are private equity firms seeking to offload their stake for a profit. Dick Smith and Myer are prime examples.

When a company floats, the founders are the ultimate insiders. They have spent years learning everything they possibly could about the company, the market, competitors, profitability, cash flows, assets, liabilities, the outlooks for supply and demand - much more than I could possibly ever know. If they know all of this and they come to the conclusion that they want to sell it, why would I want to buy it?

There are several cases of good floats where the vendors cashed out, notably when governments sell for strategic reasons or because they can’t afford to keeping injecting the capital required for growth. Commonwealth Bank and Cochlear were outstanding successes for investors in their floats. But not all government sell-offs are good. Telstra is a prime example of the government taking advantage of a crazy bubble market to sell out at ridiculous boom-time prices that never made any fundamental sense.

IPOs of private companies can tell us a lot about how the founders/vendors view its prospects. Look at what they do rather than what they say. In the case of the float of mortgage lender RAMS in 2007, nobody knew more about the mortgage market, the bad debt cycle, and the internal books of RAMS than founder John Kinghorn. In the float, he pocketed $650 million cash at the top of the mortgage market just before the sub-prime crash. Within weeks, RAMS issued profit downgrades and corrections to its accounts. Within three months, the share price fell 90%. The New York Times called it the ‘worst IPO of the decade’.

Kerr Neilson floated his funds management company Platinum at the top of the boom in 2007 right before the GFC crash. It was a stroke of market-timing genius. The $5 IPO price was hyped up to $8.80 on the first day of trading, but the very next day it started an almost straight line 70% decline to $2.75. It is still below its high more than 10 years later.

What about the Sydney housing market?

Not many people know more about residential property than John McGrath. He picked the perfect time to pocket $37 million in cash when he floated his McGrath real estate agency in December 2015. If he was bullish about housing, he would have kept his company. The share price peaked at $1.88 the day after it listed and the very next day it started its almost straight line 70% slide to where it is now. The market cooled, regulators introduced new controls to slow lending and clamp down on foreign purchases, and banks raised rates.

I have missed out on a few of good IPOs over the years, but I have avoided hundreds of duds by watching what people do rather than what they say. Successful investing is mostly about not blowing up your money in the duds.


Ashley Owen is Chief Investment Officer at advisory firm Stanford Brown and The Lunar Group. He is also a Director of Third Link Investment Managers, a fund that supports Australian charities. This article is general information that does not consider the circumstances of any individual.


Four bubbly market pockets show heightened risk for investors

Bounce back delivers super second-half for IPOs

IPO a-go-go: the who, why, when and how much of IPO investing


Most viewed in recent weeks

Unexpected results in our retirement income survey

Who knew? With some surprise results, the Government is on unexpected firm ground in asking people to draw on all their assets in retirement, although the comments show what feisty and informed readers we have.

10 reasons wealthy homeowners shouldn't receive welfare

The RBA Governor says rising house prices are due to "the design of our taxation and social security systems". The OECD says "the prolonged boom in house prices has inflated the wealth of many pensioners without impacting their pension eligibility." What's your view?

Three all-time best tables for every adviser and investor

It's a remarkable statistic. In any year since 1875, if you had invested in the Australian stock index, turned away and come back eight years later, your average return would be 120% with no negative periods.

The looming excess of housing and why prices will fall

Never stand between Australian households and an uncapped government programme with $3 billion in ‘free money’ to build or renovate their homes. But excess supply is coming with an absence of net migration.

Five stocks that have worked well in our portfolios

Picking macro trends is difficult. What may seem logical and compelling one minute may completely change a few months later. There are better rewards from focussing on identifying the best companies at good prices.

Six COVID opportunist stocks prospering in adversity

Some high-quality companies have emerged even stronger since the onset of COVID and are well placed for outperformance. We call these the ‘COVID Opportunists’ as they are now dominating their specific sectors.

Latest Updates


10 reasons wealthy homeowners shouldn't receive welfare

The RBA Governor says rising house prices are due to "the design of our taxation and social security systems". The OECD says "the prolonged boom in house prices has inflated the wealth of many pensioners without impacting their pension eligibility." What's your view?


Sean Fenton on marching to your own investment tune

Is it more difficult to find stocks to short in a rising market? What impact has central bank dominance had over stock selection? How do you combine income and growth in a portfolio? Where are the opportunities?


D’oh! DDO rules turn some funds into a punching bag

The Design and Distribution Obligations (DDO) come into effect in two weeks. They will change the way banks promote products, force some small funds to close to new members and push issues into the listed space.


Dividends, disruption and star performers in FY21 wrap

Company results in FY21 were generally good with some standout results from those thriving in tough conditions. We highlight the companies that delivered some of the best results and our future  expectations.

Fixed interest

Coles no longer happy with the status quo

It used to be Down, Down for prices but the new status quo is Down Down for emissions. Until now, the realm of ESG has been mainly fund managers as 'responsible investors', but companies are now pushing credentials.

Investment strategies

Seven factors driving growth in Managed Accounts

As Managed Accounts surge through $100 billion for the first time, the line between retail, wholesale and institutional capabilities and portfolios continues to blur. Lower costs help with best interest duties.


Reader Survey: home values in age pension asset test

Read our article on the family home in the age pension test, with the RBA Governor putting the onus on social security to address house prices and the OECD calling out wealthy pensioners. What is your view?



© 2021 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

The data, research and opinions provided here are for information purposes; are not an offer to buy or sell a security; and are not warranted to be correct, complete or accurate. Morningstar, its affiliates, and third-party content providers are not responsible for any investment decisions, damages or losses resulting from, or related to, the data and analyses or their use. Any general advice or ‘regulated financial advice’ under New Zealand law has been prepared by Morningstar Australasia Pty Ltd (ABN: 95 090 665 544, AFSL: 240892) and/or Morningstar Research Ltd, subsidiaries of Morningstar, Inc, without reference to your objectives, financial situation or needs. For more information refer to our Financial Services Guide (AU) and Financial Advice Provider Disclosure Statement (NZ). You should consider the advice in light of these matters and if applicable, the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision to invest. Past performance does not necessarily indicate a financial product’s future performance. To obtain advice tailored to your situation, contact a professional financial adviser. Articles are current as at date of publication.
This website contains information and opinions provided by third parties. Inclusion of this information does not necessarily represent Morningstar’s positions, strategies or opinions and should not be considered an endorsement by Morningstar.

Website Development by Master Publisher.