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IPOs: Safe is sexy
Investors are shying away from tech but scooping up IPOs in mundane sectors like energy and finance.
April 20, 2005: 1:13 PM EDT
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer
The more boring the better!
This year's top performing IPOs are mostly in mundane industries.
CompanyBusiness Description% change*
PRB Gas TransportationOwns natural gas pipelines40%
Alpha Natural ResourcesCoal producer31.7%
International Securities ExchangeRuns equity options exchange30.5%
Aspreva PharmaceuticalsBiotech firm25%
GFI GroupBrokerage services for derivatives market24.2%
* from offering price through 4/19/05
Source:IPO Monitor
Investors say IP-No to tech
Several tech and biotech IPOs have been poor performers this year.
CompanyBusiness description% change*
FavrilleBiotech firm focusing on cancer treatment-44.8%
Garvity Co.Developer of online brands-33%
OdimoOnline jewelry and luxury goods retailer-32.3%
Fusion Telecommunications InternationalProvides Internet phone services in emerging markets-29.5%
Syniverse HoldingsProvides wireless services to telecom carriers-25.5%
* from offering price through 4/19/05
Source:IPO Monitor

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Initial public offerings used to be glamorous. Investors craved debuts from companies in hot areas of tech, especially the Internet sector and biotechnology.

But this year, being boring is all the rage.

PRB Gas Transportation (Research), a Denver based firm that owns pipelines in the Rocky Mountain region, went public last week and shares have surged 40 percent from their offering price.

Coal producer Alpha Natural Resources (Research) is up 32 percent since its February IPO. And National Interstate (Research), an insurance company that focuses on the transportation industry, has gained 20 percent since its debut in January.

"It's been kind of Dullsville," said Tom Taulli, co-founder of Current Offerings, an IPO research firm.

Meanwhile, Internet advertising services firm Fastclick (Research) had a tepid debut earlier this month with shares slipping 13 percent. Shares of Icagen (Research), a biotech that's developing drugs to treat sickle cell anemia, epilepsy and Alzheimer's disease, have fallen nearly 20 percent since going public in February.

And Gravity (Research), a South Korean developer of online games, has lived up to its name. The stock has dropped like Newton's apple, plunging 33 percent since it began trading in February.

"This is a market that has focused more on fundamentals rather than a flash in the pan," said David Menlow, president of research firm "We are seeing reality versus perception."

Oil IPOs could keep gushing

Given that the broader market has struggled this year, Menlow expects more of the same from IPOs in coming months.

"Investors want to make sure that money they put into companies will go to directly the benefit business plans rather than going upstream to shareholders or private equity teams looking to cash out," Menlow said.

A look at the IPO calendar supports the idea.

Accuride, which makes wheels and other parts for trucks and commercial vehicles, is expected to start trading later this week. And in early May, two notable financial services are on tap to go public: investment bank Lazard and mutual fund data and research firm Morningstar.

Offerings from oil and gas companies as well as other plays in high commodity prices are also likely to remain fairly hot since energy stocks have been among the few bright spots in the market this year. Bois d'Arc Energy, a Houston-based oil exploration company, is tentatively scheduled to go public next week.

"The IPO market is always about the here and now," said Taulli. "The good news lately has been in the commodities world."

But Menlow said the recent retreat in oil prices from record highs could scare off investors. "Energy related issues have a certain amount of allure to them but the volatility may be a little too much for some people," he said.

Alphabet soup: Techs go M&A instead of IPO

So what about tech IPOs? Mark Heesen, president of the National Venture Capital Association, said that even if we start to see more techs file to go public, these firms might only be doing so to increase the chances that they would get acquired by a larger, established firm.

Microsoft (Research) acquired privately-held security software firm Sybari this year after Sybari filed to go public. And this week, Johnson & Johnson (Research) agreed to purchase Peninsula Pharmaceuticals, a biotech that had planned on going public in 2003 but withdrew its offering last year.

"At the end of the day, most VCs would tell you that you'd get a bigger bang for your buck out of an IPO than an acquisition but the public markets are not as ebullient as they could be so we probably will see more acquisitions," Heesen said.

But Taulli said that investors should take advantage of the fact that several tech IPOs have had lackluster starts. For example, he thinks that Fastclick, which is profitable, and DexCom (Research), a medical device maker that has fallen 12 percent since going public last week, have suffered more because of poor overall market conditions, not anything wrong with the companies themselves.

"These are the best times to buy IPOs. If companies can at least raise money in this market, that shows something," said Taulli. "It takes a lot of guts to invest now but that's where you make your money -- when IPOs are trading at a discount instead of coming out at inflated prices."

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