Aribnb. Palantir. Snowflake. DoorDash. Going public is all the rage in 2020. And now 2021 is shaping up to be an exciting year for IPOs.
Against all the odds as a pandemic and volatility roiled the public markets, 2020 was a “historic year when it comes to IPOs. We had the busiest year we’ve ever had in the history of the NYSE,” New York Stock Exchange president Stacey Cunningham said at Fortune‘s virtual Brainstorm Tech conference on Tuesday.
The typical “inverse correlation between market volatility and the IPO activity” was broken in 2020, as the stock exchange titan has seen “record-breaking IPO activity, not just IPOs but also through follow-on offerings, as companies are using the public markets to raise money to fight off the challenges of COVID-19 that they’ve been facing,” Cunningham said.
Part of the frenzy to go public, says Cunningham, owes to companies realizing that raising money in the private markets was “more expensive suddenly,” while public companies were “very easily and efficiently” raising money in the public markets. “So really the value of the public markets was on display,” she said. That’s prompted lots of CEOs to ask themselves, “would they always have the same access to capital in the private markets? And so some of them started to dip their toe into going public sooner,” says Cunningham.
Indeed, even a controversial and drawn-out Presidential election hasn’t been enough to stem the flow of S-1 filings this fall: Cunningham says she’s seeing companies “coming back off the sidelines, ready to go public, and not just in the month of December but in early 2021,” Cunningham said.
That doesn’t mean companies are all just opting for traditional IPOs. Firms are considering an array of options to going public, including SPACs (special purpose acquisition companies) and direct listings—methods that aren’t quite as tethered to market conditions and “where there isn’t a capital raise happening at the same time,” Cunningham says.
But whether via SPACs or IPOs, Cunningham sees a healthy pipeline come next year: “2021 has a pretty high bar to beat, but it’s looking busy so far.”