Markets

Michael P. Regan is a Bloomberg Gadfly columnist covering equities and financial services. He has covered stocks for Bloomberg News as a columnist and editor since 2007. He previously worked for the Associated Press.

Some green shoots have sprung up recently from the frozen tundra that is the market for initial public offerings. 

But have those green shoots just withered and died?

Consider this news out of IPO-land, as reported by Bloomberg's Alex Barinka and Taylor Hall: 

ZTO Express Inc., the Chinese delivery service that gets most of its business from Alibaba Holding Group Ltd., fell in its trading debut after raising the biggest U.S. initial public offering this year.

That sentence speaks volumes to how frigid the environment in the IPO market has been this year: The biggest one was a Chinese delivery service that raised only $1.4 billion. ZTO's biggest customer is 2014's IPO dream-turned-nightmare Alibaba, which went on to lose more than $85 billion in market cap and had a bit of a struggle staying above its $68 offering price after a blockbuster first day of trading, when its shares jumped by more than a third. Its shares have rallied recently.

Open Sesame
Alibaba shares surged in their trading debut and subsequent months but then fell below the offering price
Source: Bloomberg

Alibaba was a whale of an IPO at $25 billion including the green shoe. That gave it a market cap of almost $294 billion at its peak a few months afterward, and its subsequent drop sucked the wind out of Bloomberg's market-cap weighted index of recent IPOs. The index plunged 43 percent from its peak in November 2014 to its trough this February:  

IP-Oh-No!
The Bloomberg IPO Index of companies that recently went public remains about 16% below its 2014 peak
Source: Bloomberg

And now ZTO's shares opened and promptly lost as much as $2 from their offering price of $19.50.

Underwriters may end up defending that offering price, but this early reaction isn't bound to trigger a lot of optimism in those IPO green shoots after a severe drought in new offering announcements. 

Perhaps it's unfair to place too much scrutiny on this offering from ZTO, a deal that may not have drawn too much attention during more frenzied eras of IPOs. It's just that there's not many other places to direct scrutiny.

Dry Spell
The volume of U.S. initial public offerings has receded to recession-era levels
Source: Bloomberg

Except, of course, at Snap Inc. -- the social-media company that the youngs love and we olds can't quite wrap our heads around. It's planning to raise as much as $4 billion early next year. 

For what it's worth, my kids are all Snapchat addicts, and the feature that keeps them devoted to the app day after day is the "streaks," which are tallies of the number of consecutive days users have snapped back and forth with one another. For some reason, a long streak is a great source of pride and bragging rights for kids these days. (Kids these days!)  

However, the bragging rights on Wall Street may rely largely on whether Snap breaks the cold streak in the IPO market.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

To contact the author of this story:
Michael P. Regan in New York at mregan12@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story:
Daniel Niemi at dniemi1@bloomberg.net