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

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

banner

Most viewed in recent weeks

10 little-known pension traps prove the value of advice

Most people entering retirement do not see a financial adviser, mainly due to cost. It's a major problem because there are small mistakes a retiree can make which are expensive and avoidable if a few tips were known.

Check eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card

Eligibility for the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card has no asset test and a relatively high income test. It's worth checking eligibility and the benefits of qualifying to save on the cost of medications.

Hamish Douglass on why the movie hasn’t ended yet

The focus is on Magellan for its investment performance and departure of the CEO, but Douglass says the pandemic, inflation, rising rates and Middle East tensions have not played out. Vindication is always long term.

Start the year right with the 2022 Retiree Checklist

This is our annual checklist of what retirees need to be aware of in 2022. It is a long list of 25 items and not everything will apply to your situation. Run your eye over the benefits and entitlements.

At 98-years-old, Charlie Munger still delivers the one-liners

The Warren Buffett/Charlie Munger partnership is the stuff of legends, but even Charlie admits it is coming to an end ("I'm nearly dead"). He is one of the few people in investing prepared to say what he thinks.

Should I pay off the mortgage or top up my superannuation?

Depending on personal circumstances, it may be time to rethink the bias to paying down housing debt over wealth accumulation in super. Do the sums and ask these four questions to plan for your future.

Latest Updates

Investment strategies

Three ways index investing masks extra risk

There are thousands of different indexes, and they are not all diversified and broadly-based. Watch for concentration risk in sectors and companies, and know the underlying assets in case liquidity is needed.

Investment strategies

Will 2022 be the year for quality companies?

It is easy to feel like an investing genius over the last 10 years, with most asset classes making wonderful gains. But if there's a setback, companies like Reece, ARB, Cochlear, REA Group and CSL will recover best.

Shares

2022 outlook: buy a raincoat but don't put it on yet

In the 11th year of a bull market, near the end of the cycle, some type of correction is likely. Underneath is solid, healthy and underpinned by strong earnings growth, but there's less room for mistakes. 

Gold

Time to give up on gold?

In 2021, the gold price failed to sustain its strong rise since 2018, although it recovered after early losses. But where does gold sit in a world of inlfation, rising rates and a competitor like Bitcoin?

Investment strategies

Global leaders reveal surprises of 2021, challenges for 2022

In a sentence or two, global experts across many fields are asked to summarise the biggest surprise of 2021, and enduring challenges into 2022. It's a short and sweet view of the changes we are all facing.

Shares

2021 was a standout year for stockmarket listings

In 2021, sharemarket gains supported record levels of capital raisings and IPOs in Australia. The range of deals listed here shows the maturity of the local market in providing equity capital.  

Economy

Let 'er rip: how high can debt-to-GDP ratios soar?

Governments and investors have been complacent, even encouraged, the build up of debt, but somewhere, a ceiling exists. Are we near yet? Trouble is brewing, especially in the eurozone and emerging countries.

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.

Website Development by Master Publisher.