Tesla and Spotify say public markets have major flaws. Do they have a point?


By John Detrixhe, Quartz

According to two prominent executives this week, the stock market isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. Initial public offerings are broken, according to Spotify CFO Barry McCarthy. Tesla CEO Elon Musk says stock investors are too focused on the short-term, and his threat to take the company private sent traders, bankers, fans, and government watchdogs into a tizzy.

McCarthy and Musk aren’t alone in their worries. The number of IPOs and listed companies in the US is shrinking: There were an average of 310 public offerings annually from 1980 to 2000, according to an analysis by Jay Ritter, a finance professor at the University of Florida. The average has slipped to 108 since then.

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Ritter, who has personally been short Tesla for the past few weeks, says IPOs have dwindled mainly because small companies are getting gobbled up by larger ones. Regardless, the abundance of cash for investment has enabled entrepreneurs to agitate for change. For Spotify’s McCarthy, the “elephant in the room” is the discount given to institutional investors on shares before a company begins trading. This is the reward they get for risking money on an untested company.

The reason bankers underprice IPOs so routinely is to reward clients who overpay them on commissions for other things, says Ritter, who is known as Mr. IPO. Spotify’s non-traditional direct listing skipped this step. It went directly to the public, saving some money on fees and potentially much more on the IPO discount. If the company needed to raise capital, McCarthy argues the company could issue more shares to do it, and at a slimmer discount than in an IPO. Other businesses could, too.

Musk has other concerns, like short sellers and the distractions of running a listed company. But stock investors, despite their reputation for short-termism, have actually been generous and patient with Tesla (paywall). Maybe too generous, which is why so many short sellers are betting it’s overvalued. There are other companies with better autonomous driving technology, and other (profitable) car makers can also make electric vehicles, Ritter says. Even so, Mr. IPO concedes that “this week has been painful.”

If Tesla could point to profits and cash flow, maybe Musk could dismiss the flock of short sellers circling the company. As Stephen Miles of Livingston Capital Partners points out, when you’re selling a dream, you can’t ignore the people betting against you.

Tesla and Spotify have different complaints, but their comments this week show that they aren’t beholden to the way things have been done traditionally. Entrepreneurs have more options than they used to, suggesting the stock market could become more friendly to startups, and less so to Wall Street, in the coming years.
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Business - U.S. Daily News: Tesla and Spotify say public markets have major flaws. Do they have a point?
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