An initial public offering represents the first time a company makes its shares available for public trading. Immediately before a company goes public, however, it may offer a pre-IPO placement.
A pre-IPO placement is a type of private placement that involves the sale of unregistered shares in a company before they’re listed on a stock exchange for the first time. Companies typically sell these shares to hedge funds, private equity firms and other institutional investors that can purchase them in large quantities. It’s possible, however, to get involved in pre-IPO investing as an individual retail investor.
Investing in IPOs or pre-IPO stock could be profitable, if the company’s public offering lives up to or exceeds market expectations. But it’s also risky, since you never know how a stock will perform in the future.
How Does Pre-IPO Placement Work?
An IPO, or initial public offering, is an opportunity for private companies to introduce their stock to the market for the first time. A typical IPO requires a lengthy process, as there are numerous regulatory guidelines that companies must meet.
Once those hurdles are cleared, however, the company will have a date on which it goes public. Investors can then purchase shares of the company through the stock exchange where it lists.
Pre-IPO investing works a little differently. The end goal is still to have the company go public. But before that, the company sells blocks of shares privately. A successful pre-IPO gives the company attention and capital from investors ahead of the actual IPO date.
Pre-IPO investors, in return, get in on the ground floor and purchase shares before they’re available to the market at large. There may also be an added incentive. Because they’re buying such large blocks of shares, pre-IPO investors may get access to them for less than the projected IPO price.
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An Example of Pre-IPO Placement
Pre-IPO placements have gained popularity over the last decade, with more companies opting to offer them ahead of going public. Some of the companies that have offered pre-IPO stock include Uber and Alibaba, both of which have ties to e-commerce. In Uber’s case, for example, PayPal agreed to purchase $500 million worth of the company’s common stock ahead of its IPO.
Alibaba’s pre-IPO offering was notable due to the fact that a single investor and portfolio manager purchased a large block of shares. The investor, Ozi Amanat, purchased $35 million worth of pre-IPO stock at a price that was below $60 per share.
He then distributed those shares among a select group of families. By the end of the first public trading day, Alibaba’s shares had risen to $90 each. Alibaba’s IPO delivered a 48% return to those pre-IPO shareholders due to higher-than-expected demand for the company’s stock.
Pros and Cons of Pre-IPO Placement
There are benefits to pre-IPOs placements, but there are also some important drawbacks that investors should understand.
Pros of Pre-IPO Placement
From the perspective of the company, pre-IPO offerings can be advantageous if they help the company to raise much-needed capital ahead of the IPO. Offering private placements of shares before going public can help attract interest to the IPO itself, which could help make it more successful.
For investors, the benefits include:
• Access to shares of a company before the public.
• The potential ability to purchase shares of pre-IPO stock at a discount. So if a company’s IPO price is expected to be $30 a share, pre-IPO investors may be able to purchase it for $25 instead. This already gives them an edge over investors who may be purchasing shares the day the IPO launches.
• Purchasing shares at a discount can potentially translate to higher returns overall if the IPO meets or exceeds initial expectations. The higher the company’s stock price rises following the IPO, the more profits you could pocket by selling those shares later.
Cons of Pre-IPO Placement
While pre-IPO investing could be lucrative, there are some potential backs to consider. Specifically, there are certain risks involved that could make it a less attractive option for investors.
• The company’s IPO may not meet the expectations that have been set for it. That doesn’t mean a company won’t be successful later. Facebook, for example, is noteworthy for having an IPO described as a “belly flop”. A disappointing showing on the day a company goes public for the first time could shake investor confidence in the stock and bode ill for its future performance. That in turn could affect the returns realized from an investment in pre-IPO stock.
• The company may never follow through on its IPO and fails to go public. In that case, investors may be left wondering what to do with the shares they hold through a pre-IPO private placement. WeWork is an example of this in action. In 2019, the workspace-sharing company announced that it had scrapped its plans for an IPO, thanks to limited interest from investors and concerns over the sustainability of its business model. In 2021, the company did go public — but not through an Initial Public Offering. Instead, WeWork went public through a merger with a special acquisition company or SPAC.
• Pre-IPOs are less regulated than regular IPOs.
Summary of Pros and Cons of Pre-IPO Placement
Here’s a quick look at the benefits and drawbacks of pre-IPO placements:
• Investors have an opportunity to get into an investment ahead of the crowd
• Pre-IPO investors may be able to purchase shares at a price that’s below the IPO price
• Purchasing pre-IPO stock could yield higher returns if the IPO is successful
• Pre-IPO placements can be risky, as they’re less regulated than regular IPOs
• There are no guarantees that an IPO will deliver the type of returns investors expect
• Does not guarantee you’ll get the loan
How to Buy Pre-IPO Stock
Typically, only accredited investors can purchase pre-IPO placements. As of 2021, the Securities and Exchange Commission defines an accredited investor as anyone who:
• Earned income over $200,000 (or $300,000 if married) in each of the prior two years and reasonably expects to earn that same amount in the current year, OR
• Has a net worth over $1 million, either by themselves or with a spouse, excluding the value of their primary residence, OR
• Holds a Series 7, 65 or 82 license in good standing
If you meet these conditions for accredited investor status, then you may be able to purchase shares of pre-IPO stock through your brokerage account. Your brokerage will have to offer this service and not all of them do.
Other options for buying pre-IPO stock include purchasing it from the company directly. To do that, you may need to have a larger amount of capital at the ready. So if you’re not already an angel investor or venture capitalist, this option might be off the table.
You could also pursue pre-IPO placements indirectly by investing in companies that routinely purchase pre-IPO shares. For example, you might invest in a mutual fund or exchange-traded fund that specializes in private equity or late-stage companies preparing to go public. You won’t get the direct benefits of owning pre-IPO stock but you can still get exposure to them in your portfolio this way.
If you’re not an accredited investor, you can still get access to IPOs for your portfolio. While they’re more risky than established stocks, they can also offer higher potential returns.
With a SoFi Invest brokerage account, members are able to start investing in IPOs. You can indicate your interest in IPOs offered through SoFi. This gives you an opportunity to read over the prospectus and decide if you want to invest. If you do, you can place your order to buy units or shares via the SoFi Invest platform.
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Investing in an Initial Public Offering (IPO) involves substantial risk, including the risk of loss. Further, there are a variety of risk factors to consider when investing in an IPO, including but not limited to, unproven management, significant debt, and lack of operating history. For a comprehensive discussion of these risks please refer to SoFi Securities’ IPO Risk Disclosure Statement. IPOs offered through SoFi Securities are not a recommendation and investors should carefully read the offering prospectus to determine whether an offering is consistent with their investment objectives, risk tolerance, and financial situation.
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