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.

RELATED ARTICLES

Is DDO change to hybrids a drawback for investors?

Four bubbly market pockets show heightened risk for investors

Bounce back delivers super second-half for IPOs

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

A tonic for turbulent times: my nine tips for investing

Investing is often portrayed as unapproachably complex. Can it be distilled into nine tips? An economist with 35 years of experience through numerous market cycles and events has given it a shot.

Rival standard for savings and incomes in retirement

A new standard argues the majority of Australians will never achieve the ASFA 'comfortable' level of retirement savings and it amounts to 'fearmongering' by vested interests. If comfortable is aspirational, so be it.

Dalio v Marks is common sense v uncommon sense

Billionaire fund manager standoff: Ray Dalio thinks investing is common sense and markets are simple, while Howard Marks says complex and convoluted 'second-level' thinking is needed for superior returns.

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 467

Fund manager reports for last financial year are drifting into client mailboxes, and many of the results are disappointing. With some funds giving back their 2021 gains, why did they not reduce their exposure to hot stocks when faced with rising inflation and rates?

  • 21 July 2022

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 466 with weekend update

Heard the word, cakeism? As in, 'having your cake and eating it too'. The Reserve Bank wants to simultaneously fight inflation by taking away spending power, while not driving the economy into a recession. If you want to help, stop buying stuff.

  • 14 July 2022

Welcome to Firstlinks Edition 465 with weekend update

Many thanks for the thousands of revealing comments in our survey on retirement experiences. We discuss the full results. And with the ASX200 down 10%, the US S&P500 off 20% and bond prices tanking, each investor faces the new financial year deciding whether to sit, sell or invest more.

  • 7 July 2022

Latest Updates

Economy

The paradox of investment cycles

Now we're captivated by inflation and higher rates but only a year ago, investors were certain of the supremacy of US companies, the benign nature of inflation and the remoteness of tighter monetary policy.

Shares

Reporting Season will show cost control and pricing power

Companies have been slow to update guidance and we have yet to see the impact of inflation expectations in earnings and outlooks. Companies need to insulate costs from inflation while enjoying an uptick in revenue.

Shares

The early signals for August company earnings

Weaker share prices may have already discounted some bad news, but cost inflation is creating wide divergences inside and across sectors. Early results show some companies are strong enough to resist sector falls.

Property

The compelling 20-year flight of SYD into private hands

In 2002, the share price of the company that became Sydney Airport (SYD) hit 80 cents from the $2 IPO price. After 20 years of astute investment driving revenue increases, it sold to private hands for $8.75 in 2022.

Investment strategies

Ethical investing responding to some short-term challenges

There are significant differences in the sector weightings of an ethical fund versus an index, and while this has caused some short-term headwinds recently, the tailwinds are expected to blow over the long term.

Investment strategies

If you are new to investing, avoid these 10 common mistakes

Many new investors make common mistakes while learning about markets. Losses are inevitable. Newbies should read more and develop a long-term focus while avoiding big mistakes and not aiming to be brilliant.

Investment strategies

RMBS today: rising rate-linked income with capital preservation

Lenders use Residential Mortgage-Backed Securities to finance mortgages and RMBS are available to retail investors through fund structures. They come with many layers of protection beyond movements in house prices. 

Sponsors

Alliances

© 2022 Morningstar, Inc. All rights reserved.

Disclaimer
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.