NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The tech initial public offering market in 2004 should be significantly hotter than it has been for the past few years. Of course, that's not saying much.
According to research firm Dealogic, only nine tech firms went public in 2002 and they raised a total of $1.9 billion. Last year, 17 tech companies made it to the public markets, generating just $2.8 billion. By way of comparison, 295 techs went public in 1999, raising a staggering $34.6 billion.
But so far this year, there are already 19 tech deals in the IPO pipeline waiting to be priced and the total value of these deals is $3.7 billion. Plus, this doesn't include what could very likely be the biggest IPO of the year, a long-awaited offering from search engine Google. Cingular, the wireless firm co-owned by BellSouth and SBC, is also thought to be an IPO candidate for 2004.
|Year ||# of tech IPOs ||$ raised |
|1999 ||295 ||$34.6 billion |
|2000 ||204 ||$41.8 billion |
|2001 ||21 ||$10.5 billion |
|2002 ||9 ||$1.9 billion |
|2003 ||17 ||$2.8 billion |
|2004* ||19 ||$3.7 billion |
| * data for tech IPOs that have filed but not yet started to trade|
| Source: Dealogic|
Still, market observers caution investors to not get overly excited about the prospects for tech IPOs. The days when a triple digit percentage pop was routine for the opening day of a tech IPO are long gone and companies with questionable business models probably won't make it to the market.
"There's some interesting deals out there in tech but investors have to pick and choose," said Richard Peterson, chief market strategist with Thomson Financial. "We're not going back to the days of eToys and Pets.com."
Four IPOs to watch closely
So investors looking for an idea of how tech IPOs might do this year should keep an eye on four key offerings that are likely to price in the first quarter. Atheros Communications, a manufacturer of wireless chips, has received a lot of buzz. Atheros filed for its IPO in November and hopes to raise $100 million.
The company is not profitable but net losses narrowed in the first nine months of 2003 and wireless networking is one of the most talked about tech trends for 2004. So if investors are willing to overlook the fact that Atheros is not yet profitable and that it faces tough competition from the largest chipmaker in the world (Intel makes the Centrino wireless chipset) then that could open the door for more semiconductor IPOs.
|More about IPOs
Another chip offering that will receive a lot of attention is the semiconductor spin-off of telecom equipment firm Motorola.
Chip stocks have been among the best performing techs during the past few months but this offering, currently being dubbed SPS Spinco until a permanent name is chosen, could face a tough reception. Sales fell 4.5 percent in the first nine months of 2003 and the unit reported a net loss of $400 million.
Motorola is hoping to raise $2 billion from the sale. But will investors overlook the division's problems now that the overall semiconductor business appears to be on the upswing? David Menlow, president of IPO research firm IPOfinancial.com, thinks investors will stay away from the deal.
Two software offerings will also receive a fair amount of scrutiny from the market. Motive, which develops customer service software used by large corporations such as BellSouth, Hewlett-Packard and Verizon, is hoping to raise $70 million. The company's sales nearly doubled during the first nine months of 2003 but it is also not profitable.
Salesforce.com, a business software firm that allows customers to rent, rather than buy, software, has received plenty of buzz as well.
Marc Benioff, a former Oracle sales executive, runs the company and there has been talk by some in the software industry that Salesforce's renting model could put significant pressure on companies like Oracle, Siebel Systems and SAP.
The company did report a profit in the first nine months of 2003 but most of the earnings came from a one-time gain that the company recorded when it was released from a previous lease obligation after the company changed office spaces. Salesforce is hoping to raise $115 million in its offering.
Keep an eye on acquisitions
Of course, most investors are more interested in Google than any of these four offerings. But the success of the tech IPO market this year might hinge more on these deals than Google, which has had a lot of hype for good reason. It is said to have healthy revenue growth prospects as well as relatively high profit margins.
"Google is a unique situation. Although it will bring more attention back to the IPO market, it won't be the 'Son of Netscape' where people say, 'We're off to the races and everything Internet or tech related is now going to work," said Menlow.
Investors will also want to keep an eye on whether or not private tech companies with a lot of hoopla surrounding them ever make it to the public markets. Some have chosen to sell out rather than test the IPO waters.
For example, Crystal Decisions, a hot business intelligence software company, filed for an IPO in 2003 but was acquired by Business Objects. VMWare, a storage software company that was generating a lot of attention as a potential IPO candidate for 2004, was bought out by EMC in December.
And if more well-regarded private companies decide that they're better off as part of a large, already public firm instead of taking their chances as an independent, then that has to make investors question the wisdom of other tech firms trying to go public.