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After record IPO year, Australian listings shrink to almost nothing

Monday, May 4, 2015 - 10:18
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Australian IPOs have virtually dried up after a record year, taking their cue from a subdued stock market as investors fret about the country's commodities bust and China's weakening economy.

[SYDNEY] Australian IPOs have virtually dried up after a record year, taking their cue from a subdued stock market as investors fret about the country's commodities bust and China's weakening economy.

After an unprecedented US$15 billion of initial public offerings last year, companies raised US$327 million in January-to-March, Thomson Reuters data shows. That's down 96 per cent from a year earlier and a fraction of the US$7.5 billion in the previous quarter. The drop-off reflects the skittish mood in Australian equities. While the market bounced 7 percent in January following a weak 2014 finish, it has since failed to make headway as investors shrug off record low interest rates and watch the all-important iron ore price sink.

The average size of an IPO in the March quarter was US$30 million, down from US$270 million in the December quarter and US$100 million a year earlier. Last year, many private equity firms offloaded assets they had held since the aftermath of the global financial crisis. This year has been marked by just one big listing and a spate of tiny IPOs by small companies. "We've had a very long bull market since the bottom in '08, and we find it hard to find value," said Geoff Wilson, chairman of Wilson Asset Management, which bought shares in Monday's market debutant MYOB .

As IPOs stall, early investors in private businesses are keeping the companies on their portfolios for longer in the hope of a more profitable exit. Some investors are selling relatively small stakes to the public. Bain Capital is retaining a majority stake in accounting software firm MYOB, which raised A$833 million (S$867 million). It is expected to be Australia's biggest IPO in 2015, but is dwarfed by each of the top five listings of 2014.

The big listings of 2014 have turned in mixed performances, with those towards the year-end faring worse as the share market entered a period of volatility due to concerns about the Chinese economy. After listing in November, Medibank gained as much as 20 per cent by mid-February but closed at a premium of just 1 per cent on Friday. Aged care firm Estia Health listed in December and did not trade over its issue price until late February. Hospital operator Healthscope has meanwhile risen by a third since listing in July. Cleaning and catering firm Spotless is up 42 per cent since its May IPO.

REUTERS

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