IPO Corner: Stick With Cash Over Flash

I’m not thrilled to see a steady trickle of new deals keep crowding the market at a moment when any sane person would concede that investors aren’t really in the mood.

We’re still digesting 3-4 IPOs a week. That’s not bad in comparison to the giddy and completely unsustainable 43 companies that came to Wall Street in November . . . a pace roughly 2.5X what we’re seeing three months later.

But in the grand scheme of things, I’d much rather see 3-4 IPOs a month. The pipeline is moving in the right direction, don’t get me wrong. We’re just a long way from either normal or “good.”

And until we see companies that aren’t ready for the public market recognize reality and delay their deals, the IPO space is going to remain more than a little shell-shocked. There are still hundreds of deals from last year that never got a chance to establish themselves before Fed fears closed the window.

Some of those companies had what it takes to thrive. They’ll come back sometime in the coming year, once earnings remind investors that the underlying businesses are dynamic and worth a long-term look.

Others need to disappear. That process might take a year or two but sooner or later every CEO looks in the mirror and decides that the company has gone as far as it can on its own.

It’s time to sell to the highest bidder and become part of something bigger. Companies like Splunk (SPLK) are realizing that now. Others will follow.

Until they do, the fact remains that at least 75% of all IPOs in the past year have broken. They’re underperforming long-term trends by a dizzying 25-30 percentage points.

And that tells me there’s safety in a strong defense. We’ve done extremely well with new stocks that pay dividends. Yes, it happens. You don’t have to be a rank startup years from profitability to go public.

Every REIT needs an IPO sooner or later, after all. Most have already bought their first properties and are collecting rent from tenants. They’re real businesses before they file their offering prospectus.

That’s what I like to see. And with so many IPOs dropping with the group, you can actually lock in decent long-term yields. Run a dividend screen and cross-reference it to recent offerings. What do you find?

I see a lot of mortgage REITs squeezing the yield curve as much as they can. Some even pay 5% or more, which feels like a better deal than bonds right now as long as they can keep making their quarterly payments.

And I see a few Business Development Companies that distribute money to true early-stage enterprises and collect it back with substantial interest . . . even in this zero-rate world. You can capture 8% or more if you know where to look.

That isn’t a lot of money in the IPO market. But it’s a lot better than taking a big paper loss in those seasons when more aggressive and speculative deals are falling flat on their faces. Start defensive. Work out from that strong base.