By the Numbers: Are Tech IPOs Worth the Hype for Investors?
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By the Numbers: Are Tech IPOs Worth the Hype?

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Are Tech IPOs Worth the Hype?

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Tech IPOs — Hype vs. Reality

Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) generate massive amounts of attention from investors and media alike, especially for new and fast-rising companies in the technology sector.

On the surface, the attention is warranted. Some of the most well-known tech companies have built their profile by going public, including Facebook by raising $16 billion in 2012.

But when you peel away the hype and examine investor returns from tech IPOs more closely, the reality can leave a lot to be desired.

The Hype in Numbers

When it comes to the IPOs of companies beginning to sell shares on public stock exchanges, tech offerings have become synonymous with billion-dollar launches.

Given the sheer magnitude of IPOs based in the technology sector, it’s easy to understand why. Globally, the technology sector has regularly generated the most IPOs and highest proceeds, as shown in a recent report by Ernst & Young.

In 2019 alone, the world’s public markets saw 263 IPOs in the tech sector with total proceeds of $62.8 billion. That’s far ahead of the second-place healthcare sector, which saw 174 IPOs generate proceeds of $22.5 billion.

The discrepancy is more apparent in the U.S., according to data from Renaissance Capital. In fact, over the last five years, the tech sector has accounted for 23% of total U.S. IPOs and 34% of proceeds generated by U.S. IPOs.

tech-IPOs-Supplemental

The prevalence of tech is even more apparent when examining history’s largest IPOs. Of the 25 largest IPOs in U.S. history, 60% come from the technology and communication services sectors.

That list includes last year’s well-publicized IPOs for Uber ($8.1 billion) and Lyft ($2.3 billion), as well as a direct public offering from Slack ($7.4 billion). Soon the list might include Airbnb, which plans to list within the communication services sector instead of tech.

The Reality in Returns

But the proof, as they say, is in the pudding.

Uber and Lyft were two of 2019’s largest U.S. IPOs, but they also saw some of the poorest returns. Uber fell 33.4% from its IPO price at year end, while Lyft was down 35.7%.

And they were far from isolated incidents. Tech IPOs averaged a return of -4.6% last year, far behind the top sectors of consumer staples (led by Beyond Meat) and healthcare.

SectorAvg. IPO Return (2019)
Consumer Staples103.0%
Healthcare35.9%
Financials30.8%
Materials30.4%
Consumer Discretionary14.6%
Industrials6.1%
Energy-0.4%
Technology-4.6%
Utilities-7.8%
Real Estate-9.4%
Communication Services-66.4%

While last year was the first time tech IPOs have averaged a negative return in four years, analysis of the last 10 years confirms that tech IPOs have underperformed over the last decade.

A decade-long analysis from investment firm Janus Henderson demonstrated that U.S. tech IPOs start underperforming compared to the broad tech sector about 5-6 months after launching.

This dip likely corresponds to the expiry of an IPO’s lock-up period—the time that a company’s pre-IPO investors are able to sell their stock. By cashing in on strong early performance, investors flood the market and bring share prices down.

Interestingly, most gains for these IPOs tend to happen within the first day of trading. The median first-day performance for tech IPOs was a 21% increase over the offer price. That’s why the median first-year return for a tech IPO, excluding the first day of trading, is -19% when compared with the broader tech sector.

How to Make Money from Tech IPOs

So does that mean that investors should avoid tech IPOs? Not necessarily.

Longer-term analysis from the University of Florida’s Warrington College of Business shows that U.S. tech IPOs offer better returns than other sectors as long as investors get in at the offer price.

U.S. Tech IPO Returns from Offer Price

SectorAvg. Three-Year Return Market-adjusted Return
Tech77.0%28.3%
Non-Tech34.6%-11.4%

Even when adjusting for the broader market performance, tech IPOs have been solid in comparison to the offer price.

The challenge is that if investors are buying stock after that first day market bump, they may have already missed out on meaningful gains:

U.S. Tech IPO Returns from First Closing Price

SectorAvg. Three-Year Return Market-adjusted Return
Tech46.1%-2.7%
Non-Tech23.7%-22.2%

So should investors shy away from tech IPOs unless they’re able to get in early?

Generally speaking, the analysis holds that new tech companies perform relatively well, but not better than the broader market once they’ve started trading.

However, in a world of billion-dollar unicorns, there are always exceptions to the rule. The University of Florida study found that tech companies with a base of over $100 million in sales before going public saw a market-adjusted three-year return of 24.4% from the first closing price.

If you can sift through the hype and properly analyze the right tech IPO to support, the reality can be rewarding.

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The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web

A lot has changed since Yahoo and AOL were the homepages of choice. This visualization looks at the largest internet giants in the U.S. since 1998.

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The 20 Internet Giants That Rule the Web (1998-Today)

With each passing year, an increasingly large segment of the population no longer remembers images loading a single pixel row at a time, the earsplitting sound of a 56k modem, or the early domination of web portals.

Many of the top websites in 1998 were news aggregators or search portals, which are easy concepts to understand. Today, brand touch-points are often spread out between devices (e.g. mobile apps vs. desktop) and a myriad of services and sub-brands (e.g. Facebook’s constellation of apps). As a result, the world’s biggest websites are complex, interconnected web properties.

The visualization above, which primarily uses data from ComScore’s U.S. Multi-Platform Properties ranking, looks at which of the internet giants have evolved to stay on top, and which have faded into internet lore.

America Moves Online

For millions of curious people the late ’90s, the iconic AOL compact disc was the key that opened the door to the World Wide Web. At its peak, an estimated 35 million people accessed the internet using AOL, and the company rode the Dotcom bubble to dizzying heights, reaching a valuation of $222 billion dollars in 1999.

AOL’s brand may not carry the caché it once did, but the brand never completely faded into obscurity. The company continually evolved, finally merging with Yahoo after Verizon acquired both of the legendary online brands. Verizon had high hopes for the company—called Oath—to evolve into a “third option” for advertisers and users who were fed up with Google and Facebook.

Sadly, those ambitions did not materialize as planned. In 2019, Oath was renamed Verizon Media, and was eventually sold once again in 2021.

A City of Gifs and Web Logs

As internet usage began to reach critical mass, web hosts such as AngelFire and GeoCities made it easy for people to create a new home on the Web.

GeoCities, in particular, made a huge impact on the early internet, hosting millions of websites and giving people a way to actually participate in creating online content. If it were a physical community of “home” pages, it would’ve been the third largest city in America, after Los Angeles.

This early online community was at risk of being erased permanently when GeoCities was finally shuttered by Yahoo in 2009, but luckily, the nonprofit Internet Archive took special efforts to create a thorough record of GeoCities-hosted pages.

From A to Z

In December of 1998, long before Amazon became the well-oiled retail machine we know today, the company was in the midst of a massive holiday season crunch.

In the real world, employees were pulling long hours and even sleeping in cars to keep the goods flowing, while online, Amazon.com had become one of the biggest sites on the internet as people began to get comfortable with the idea of purchasing goods online. Demand surged as the company began to expand their offering beyond books.

Amazon.com has grown to be the most successful merchant on the Internet.

– New York Times (1998)

Digital Magazine Rack

Meredith will be an unfamiliar brand to many people looking at today’s top 20 list. While Meredith may not be a household name, the company controlled many of the country’s most popular magazine brands (People, AllRecipes, Martha Stewart, Health, etc.) including their sizable digital footprints. The company also owned a slew of local television networks around the United States.

After its acquisition of Time Inc. in 2017, Meredith became the largest magazine publisher in the world. Since then, however, Meredith has divested many of its most valuable assets (Time, Sports Illustrated, Fortune). In December 2021, Meredith merged with IAC’s Dotdash.

“Hey, Google”

When people have burning questions, they increasingly turn to the internet for answers, but the diversity of sources for those answers is shrinking.

Even as recently as 2013, we can see that About.com, Ask.com, and Answers.com were still among the biggest websites in America. Today though, Google appears to have cemented its status as a universal wellspring of answers.

As smart speakers and voice assistants continue penetrate the market and influence search behavior, Google is unlikely to face any near-term competition from any company not already in the top 20 list.

New Kids on the Block

Social media has long since outgrown its fad stage and is now a common digital thread connecting people across the world. While Facebook rapidly jumped into the top 20 by 2007, other social media infused brands took longer to grow into internet giants.

By 2018, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook’s umbrella of platforms were all in the top 20, and you can see a more detailed and up-to-date breakdown of the social media universe here.

A Tangled Web

Today’s internet giants have evolved far beyond their ancestors from two decades ago. Many of the companies in the top 20 run numerous platforms and content streams, and more often than not, they are not household names.

A few, such as Mediavine and CafeMedia, are services that manage ads. Others manage content distribution, such as music, or manage a constellation of smaller media properties, as is the case with Hearst.

Lastly, there are still the tech giants. Remarkably, three of the top five web properties were in the top 20 list in 1998. In the fast-paced digital ecosystem, that’s some remarkable staying power.

This article was inspired by an earlier work by Philip Bump, published in the Washington Post.

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Visualizing the Power of the World’s Supercomputers

Supercomputers are some of the most advanced machines humans have ever created. See how they stack up in this infographic.

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Visualizing the Power of the World’s Supercomputers

A supercomputer is a machine that is built to handle billions, if not trillions of calculations at once. Each supercomputer is actually made up of many individual computers (known as nodes) that work together in parallel.

A common metric for measuring the performance of these machines is flops, or floating point operations per second.

In this visualization, we’ve used November 2021 data from TOP500 to visualize the computing power of the world’s top five supercomputers. For added context, a number of modern consumer devices were included in the comparison.

Ranking by Teraflops

Because supercomputers can achieve over one quadrillion flops, and consumer devices are much less powerful, we’ve used teraflops as our comparison metric.

1 teraflop = 1,000,000,000,000 (1 trillion) flops.

RankNameTypeTeraflops
#1🇯🇵 Supercomputer FugakuSupercomputer537,212
#2🇺🇸 SummitSupercomputer200,795
#3🇺🇸 SierraSupercomputer125,712
#4🇨🇳 Sunway TaihulightSupercomputer125,436
#5🇺🇸 PerlmutterSupercomputer93,750
n/aNvidia Titan RTXConsumer device130
n/aNvidia GeForce RTX 3090Consumer device36
n/aXbox Series XConsumer device12
n/aTesla Model S (2021) Consumer device10

Supercomputer Fugaku was completed in March 2021, and is officially the world’s most powerful supercomputer. It’s used for various applications, including weather simulations and innovative drug discovery.

Sunway Taihulight is officially China’s top supercomputer and fourth most powerful in the world. That said, some experts believe that the country is already operating two much more powerful systems, based on data from anonymous sources.

As you can see, the most advanced consumer devices do not come close to supercomputing power. For example, it would take the combined power of 4,000 Nvidia Titan RTX graphics cards (the most powerful consumer card available) to measure up to the Fugaku.

Upcoming Supercomputers

One of China’s unrevealed supercomputers is supposedly named Oceanlite, and is a successor to Sunway Taihulight. It’s believed to have reached 1.3 exaflops, or 1.3 quintillion flops. The following table makes it easier to follow all of these big numbers.

NameNotationExponentPrefix
Quintillion1,000,000,000,000,000,00010^18Exa 
Quadrillion1,000,000,000,000,00010^15Peta
Trillion 1,000,000,000,00010^12Tera
Billion1,000,000,00010^9Giga
Million1,000,00010^6Mega

In the U.S., rival chipmakers AMD and Intel have both won contracts from the U.S. Department of Energy to build exascale supercomputers. On the AMD side, there’s Frontier and El Capitan, while on the Intel side, there’s Aurora.

Also involved in the EL Capitan project is Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), which claims the supercomputer will be able to reach 2 exaflops upon its completion in 2023. All of this power will be used to support several exciting endeavors:

  • Enable advanced simulation and modeling to support the U.S. nuclear stockpile and ensure its reliability and security.
  • Accelerate cancer drug discovery from six years to one year through a partnership with pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline
  • Understand the dynamic and mutations of RAS proteins that are linked to 30% of human cancers

Altogether, exascale computing represents the ability to conduct complex analysis in a matter of seconds, rather than hours. This could unlock an even faster pace of innovation.

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