在最近对证券交易委员会（SEC）投资者咨询委员会提交的证词中，著名风投公司Andreessen Horowitz首席执行官兼执行合伙人Scott Kupor对当今逐渐消失的IPO市场进行了全面而简明的描述，包括这一现象的原因及其影响，以及一些应对建议。 以下是其本次讲话的主要观点。
首先，我先给大家介绍一些所谓“IPO市场消失/衰退"的背景。 以前，大多数公司迫不及待地想要进行首次公开募股。 因为IPO不仅是公司创始人和内部人士终于摘得努力硕果的一种方式，同时也被认为是新公司取得成功的绝对顶点。 此外，这也意味着公众（即你和我）能够通过能够购买该公司的股份并赚取收益来分享财富。然而，这种日子已经过去了。
自从上个世纪90年代初的互联网泡沫高峰期以来，IPO市场一直在稳步下滑。 现在用“下降”这个词有点不正确，因为它意味着IPO市场的整体价值已经下降，但情况并非如此。 市场总价值多年来一直保持不变，但构成这个市场价值的公司数量和规模发生了重大变化。 一个简单的例子应该有助于正确看待这一现象。
现在让我们用上面的例子说明过去几十年来IPO市场发生了什么。 在1980 - 2000年的IPO黄金时期，上市公司的特点更偏向上文的第一组；本质上是成功的，但成立时间不长且总体价值小。 今天，上市公司特点更偏向上文的第二组；成立时间更长且更富有。下图简单说明了自1996年以来上市的公司的平均年龄和上市前价值变化情况：
缺乏资本市场激励。 虽然关于资本市场监管规则（如订单处理规则，注册管理系统和注册管理系统）的讨论远远超出了本话题的范围，但这些规定的确对交易者和市场制造者的盈利能力产生了重大影响。 简单来说，增加的交易条例鼓励资本交易者和市场制造者摆脱小盘股和交易而非大盘股。 因此，小盘股的市场大幅下滑，公司等待着，直到有更多的资本上市，其IPO才能获得更多投资者（特别是机构投资者）青睐。
短期投资压力。 即使是个人的股票投资策略，也已经从长期策略（买入和持有）转向短期策略（买入和抛售）。股票的平均投资期限从8年（1960年）下降到8个月（2016年）就证明了这一点。 更重要的是，投资者预计在短期持有期间就获得很大投资回报率。 这给不断增长的年轻公司造成了很大的压力，往往会导致他们做出更多倾向于为投资者获得短期回报而非有利于公司长期发展的投资决策。因此，许多公司选择长时间保持私有化，以避免这些来自投资者的巨大压力。
税务执行费用。 最后，作为上市公司的监管成本无疑是巨大的，随着适用法规的落实，这些成本在多年来只有增加，这一点并不奇怪。 更重要的是，合规规则通常不依赖于公司的规模（即小公司和大公司并无差别）。 因此，许多小公司为避免这些巨大的成本选择推迟上市，直到他们处于可以使成为上市公司的成本增加合理化的更好的资本状况，。
Kupor先生确定了上述IPO趋势带来的几个潜在影响，包括总体就业增长和全球资本市场竞争的下降。 其中涉及到的一些问题我曾多次提及，对所有散户投资者都非常重要。今天，绝大多数股权投资回报正在私人市场上消失；对于通过公共股票市场投资的投资者来说，几乎没有任何潜力获得重大回报。 这一现象可以从2013年Andreessen Horowitz展示的中的下列图表得到很好的说明：
如上图所示，通过投资上市公司赚取实体货币的几率在今天几乎不存在。 通过投资亚马逊、苹果或微软等上市公司的股份并期望获得重大回报的日子已经一去不复返。Scott Kupor提出的以下例子证明，即使投资最成功的公司，期望在今天的市场上获得IPO股票的回报也是无益的尝试。
提高市场吸引力。 Kupor先生建议探索“一切渠道”来增加小盘股市场的流动性和吸引力。 这包括继续尝试“勾号”规定以减少小型交易场所的数量，并寻求增加小盘股的市场化活动的方法。 这些措施的目的是帮助增加小盘股市场的整体吸引力（特别是在机构投资者中）和流动性，从而使小盘股IPO更有可受到投资者的好评。
若没有某种形式的实质性干预，这种IPO衰退的趋势肯定会持续下去。 Kupor先生的改革建议切中要害，但需要证券交易委员会来致力于实质性改革，方能取得实际进展。 在可预见的未来（特别是在特朗普政权下）证券交易委员会能否做到这一点仍是个未知数。 希望我们至少通过使用众筹和类似的方式，继续看到私人市场的扩张，从而使普通投资者真正有机会通过投资实现获利。
In a recent testimony to the Investor Advisory Committee of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Scott Kupor, CEO & Managing Partner of Andreessen Horowitz, a $6.5 billion multi-stage venture capital firm, gave an amazingly comprehensive and concise description of today’s vanishing IPO market, the causes and implications of the same, and some suggestions for cures. Here are the highlights.
Before diving into this testimony I thought it might be helpful to give some background on what we refer to as the vanishing or diminishing Initial Public Offering (IPO) market. It used to be that most companies couldn’t wait to get to the point of having their IPO. Not only did an IPO serve as as a way for the founders and insiders of the company to finally reap in the riches of their efforts, it used to be seen as the absolute culmination of success for a new company. Almost as importantly, it also meant that the general public (i.e. you and I) would be able to share in the wealth by being able to purchase a stake in that company and make money as it grew. Those days are long gone, however.
Since its peak during the “.com” bubble of the late 90’s early 00’s, the IPO market has been on a steady decline. Now the term decline is a bit of a misnomer in that it implies that the overall value of the IPO market has diminished, however that is not the case. The aggregate value of the market has remained somewhat the same over the years but the number and size of companies that make up this market value has changed significantly. A simple example should help put this into perspective.
Instead of companies, for a second let’s compare two groups of individuals. In “Group 1” we have five 20 something individuals who each make $100k per year and in “Group 2” we have a 60 year old individual who makes $500k per year. The aggregate income of both groups is the same but the make-up of that income is completely different. More importantly, the future earning potential of the two groups is drastically different. Few would argue that the single individual in Group 2, who is in the later stages of his life, would have a greater future earning potential in the long run than the five younger individuals making up Group 1. First, each of the five individuals in Group 1 have the potential to earn $500k or more by the time they are 60 (i.e. resulting in a total potential future value for Group 1 of $2.5M by age 60). Second, because there are multiple individuals in Group 1 as opposed to the single individual in Group 2, the probability that Group 1 will be successful (on average) is significantly higher then for Group 2 (e.g. the theory of diversification). With that in consideration, if you were asked today which of these groups you would prefer to invest invest your money with you would most likely want to invest with Group 1 because, while the two groups make the same amount now, you would have a better probability to make a larger return in the future by going with Group 1.
Now let’s use the above example to illustrate what has happened in the IPO market over the last several decades. During the heyday of IPO’s from 1980-2000, the characteristics of companies going public looked more like Group 1 above; inherently successful but typically young and smaller in overall value. Today however, the companies who go public are more like those in Group 2 above; much older and wealthier. Graphically here is a simple illustration of the change in average age, and pre-IPO values, of companies going public since 1996:
As you can see from the above chart there has been a fundamental shift over the last two decades from smaller and younger “Group 1” types of companies going public to older and larger “Group 2” types of companies. While this has of course led to a drastic decrease in the average total number of IPOs per year, again the total dollar volume of the IPO market has remained somewhat stable over the years as shown in the following:
What the above boils down to for us “average joe” investors is that companies are remaining private for longer periods of time (where all the value is being sucked out as discussed below) and the likelihood of making any real money by investing in an IPO today is all but gone.
In his testimony, Scott Kupor astutely identified the following three (3) key factors which have contributed to the above described IPO trends:
Lack of Capital Market Incentives. While a discussion of capital market regulating rules such as Order Handling Rules, Reg ATS and Reg NMS are well beyond the scope of this post, these regulations materially affect the profitability of traders and market-makers. As trading spreads narrow the incentive for market makers to deal with small cap stocks (i.e. “Group 1” companies) decreases significantly. Put simply, increased trading regulations have incentivized capital dealers and market makers to move away from small cap stocks and trade instead in larger cap stocks. Accordingly the market for small cap stocks has decreased significantly and companies are waiting until they have a larger amount of capital to go public so their IPO offering will be better received by investors (particularly institutional investors).
Short-Term Investment Pressures. Stock investment strategies, even for individuals, has shifted from long-term (buy and hold) to a significantly more short term (buy and flip) strategy. This is evidenced by the fact that the average investment holding period for stocks has dropped from 8 years (in 1960) to 8 months (in 2016). More importantly, investors expect to see significant returns on their investment during these shorter hold periods. Put another way, while our grandparents might have been happy with a 10% return over their 8 year holding period, we are more likely today to expect the same 10% in 8 months. This puts a lot of pressure on a growing young company and can often cause them to make decisions which are more oriented toward generating short-term investor return as opposed to long-term company growth. Consequently, many companies are choosing to stay private longer in order to avoid these significant investor pressures.
Compliance Costs. Finally, it should come as no surprise that the regulatory costs of being a public company are substantial and that these costs have only increased over the years with the introduction of Sarbanes Oxley and other applicable regulations. More importantly, the compliance rules are typically not dependent on the size of the company (i.e. small and large companies are treated the same). As a result, many smaller companies are putting off going public in order to defer these substantial costs until they are in a better capital position to rationalize the increased cost of being a public company.
Implications To Investors.
Mr. Kupor identifies several potential implications resulting from the above IPO trends, including decreased overall job growth and global capital market competition. Among those noted implications is something I have touched on several times before which is an issue that should be of tremendous importance to all retail investors. Today the overwhelming majority of returns from equity investment are being eaten up in the private markets; leaving little to no potential for significant returns for those investing through the public stock market. This phenomenon is readily illustrated by the following chart from a 2013 Andreessen Horowitz presentation:
As the above chart illustrates, the chances of making any real money today by investing in an IPO company are virtually non-existent. Long gone are the days when you could invest in shares of a public company like Amazon, Apple or Microsoft and expect to make a significant return on your investment. The following example put forward by Scott Kupor evidences the futility of trying to earn significant returns from IPO shares in today’s marketplace, even when investing in the most successful companies:
“A simple example illustrates this wealth shifting effect from public market investors to private investors. Microsoft went public in 1986 at a $350 million market cap; today, Microsoft’s market cap exceeds $500 billion. Thus a public holding of Microsoft from IPO has had the opportunity to enjoy a return of more than 1,400x on her original investment. Amazon is a similar story: an initial public market cap of approximately $440 million in 1997 that has grown just shy of 1,100x in the public markets. Contrast that with the incredible success story of Facebook, which debuted in the public markets around a $100 billion market cap. While the company has performed exceedingly well in the public markets, the returns to public market investors are about 4.5x. For public investors in Facebook to achieve returns comparable to those of Microsoft and Amazon shareholders, Facebook would need to reach a market cap of $100 trillion, a number that well exceeds the total global market cap of all listed stocks.
While everyday investors (both accredited and unaccredited) are gaining more access to the private markets via recent new regulations (i.e. the JOBS Act, intrastate crowdfunding and related regulations), average investor exposure remains very limited and the majority of the appreciation in the private markets still accrue to institutional and high-net worth investors.”
Suggestions for Reform
As part of his testimony, Mr. Kupor presented several suggestions to help reform the present IPO decline and related implications. These include the following:
Improving Market Attractiveness. Mr. Kupor suggests exploring “all avenues” toward increasing the liquidity and attractiveness of the small cap stock market. This includes continuing to experiment with the “tick-size” regulations, possibly reducing the number of small cap trading venues, and looking for ways to increase market making activities with respect to Small Cap stocks. The intent of these measures are to help increase the overall attractiveness (particularly among institutional investors) and liquidity of the small cap market, thus making it more probably that a small cap IPO will be well received by investors.
Alleviating Short-Term Pressures. Mr. Kupor recommends considering tenure-based voting mechanisms (i.e. voting structures where long-term holders have greater voting rights). Mr. Kupor also suggests possibly requiring enhanced disclosure requirements for institutional investors with respect to material short positions. The intent of these measures are to help alleviate some of the significant short-term investor pressures discussed above which dissuade companies from going public.
Decreasing Compliance Costs. Finally Mr. Kupor suggests that the SEC undertake a comprehensive review of the current regulatory compliance costs for public companies and consider implementing a more cost-benefit regulatory framework that takes into account the size of the company being regulated (e.g. smaller companies would have less regulatory/reporting requirements). As Mr. Kupor astutely recognizes the current, one size fits all, regulatory regime often disproportionally hurts smaller companies. If a more cost-benefit regulatory framework was applied, the overall initial and ongoing costs of going public would be significantly reduced for smaller companies thus making the IPO option more appealing.
Without some form of substantive intervention this diminishing IPO trend is certain to continue. Mr. Kupor’s suggestions for reform are absolutely on point but it is going to take an SEC that is committed to working toward substantive reform in order to make any real progress. Whether or not that will occur in the foreseeable future (particularly under the Trump regime) is anyone’s guess. Hopefully at least we will continue to see the expansion of the private markets through the use of crowdfunding and similar regulations so everyday investors will have their chance to get a piece of the pie and not just the leftover crumbs.