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Why 2016 Was Actually a Pretty Good Year For Tech IPOs

January 4, 2017, 7:27 PM UTC

If you are sensible, you enjoyed the holidays fully and stayed far away from the business news. If on the other hand, you are a creature of habit or discipline and wanted to keep in touch with the world beyond fruitcake and wassail, you undoubtedly read numerous stories about what a terrible year 2016 was for IPOs. To be specific, a Google search on the words “2016 IPO” and” Terrible” returns 5.1 million results. If only that were true.

Was it a bad year? Well, that depends on what side of the equation you are on. For those who make a living based on the volume or size of deals done: the bankers, lawyers, accountants, IR firms etc, there is no arguing with the oft repeated data. It was a lousy year as the tech IPO count was down more than30% from the paltry numbers in 2015. No question; the volume guys had a tough year. But is that really the best way to measure the IPO market?

What about the investors; the people who invest in and in many cases hold on to the securities of these new issuers? You remember them, the portfolio managers who take the risk associated with new issues on behalf of the school teachers, individual investors, pension funds etc. that make up the mutual fund industry, still the bulk of institutional equity investment dollars and the biggest buyers of IPOs. Is it possible these folks might have a very different perspective on the definition of a “good” or “bad” IPO year?

Investors had 21 opportunities to participate in the tech IPO market in 2016, according to Renaissance Capital. Had they been brave enough to participate in all 21, they would have owned a basket of stocks that finished the year 39.8% above where they debuted. For those keeping track, that is more than 5 times the returns on the NASDAQ composite index, which finished the year up a very healthy 7.5%. There’s not a long-only portfolio manager or a shareholder on the planet who would call that performance anything other than fabulous.

Names like Acacia, Twilio, Impinj, TheTradeDesk, Nutanix among others took on the challenge, sailed over the hurdles in the process and not only completed strong IPOs but also delivered solid earnings reports in subsequent quarters. Assuredly some hit their annual high price point in the days immediately after the IPO but those prices are determined by enthusiastic (and not always rational) investors. For those who participated in the IPO itself, or waited for the issues to settle after the first few weeks, the gains were tangible and provided a very sweet return.

Just for fun, let’s compare that to 2014, a year in which the IPO market earned headlines proclaiming it “hot”, “a strong year” and the best since 2000. In that year, there were 45 tech IPOs, with the biggest – and still the largest tech IPO of all time, Alibaba. By the end of that year, four of the 10 largest were already trading below their opening price. Among those trading up at year end were names like Lending Club and GoPro, which were both off to fast starts but unfortunately have since suffered precipitous declines in their share price. 2014 may have been a “banner” year for those who look at volume, but for those who invest, not so much. Obviously the 2016 class will face future challenges too, every IPO class does, but as the year closed, 9 out of 10 were in black-ink territory.

Will 2017 be better? Pretty tough to beat those nearly 40% returns so who knows? On the other hand, the returns on those served up in 2016 will no doubt bring investors back to the table to see what’s on the menu this year. Assuming the valuations are in line with some sort of fundamental reason and the stories are told crisply and clearly – oh and assuming macro-economic headwinds don’t interfere – 2017 could be one of those years where the volume counters and the investors both win. Here’s hoping.

Lise Buyer is a partner at the Class V Group, an advisory firm dedicated solely to the IPO market and the long term success of new issuers.