Morgan Stanley to woo startups at own direct-listing event

[NEW YORK] Silicon Valley investors are touting direct listings to startups as a way to sidestep Wall Street banks and the initial public offering (IPO) process. Morgan Stanley wants to make sure it stays in the mix.

The bank is organising an event about direct listings on Oct 21 in San Francisco, according to people with knowledge of the programme. It will take place at the West Coast outpost of the New York Stock Exchange, the people said, asking not to be identified because the information hasn't been made public.

The gathering follows a closed-door confab of venture capital firms, investors and entrepreneurs on Tuesday in the same city, in which organisers promoted the alternative to IPOs that wrests power away from banks and avoids a first-day price pop.

In one of this year's highest profile examples, shares of Beyond Meat surged 163 per cent on their first day of trading after the company's May IPO. While investors that took shares in the IPO made a big profit, the day-one price surge suggests it was priced below its actual value.

Under a direct listing, a company makes its shares available for trading on a stock exchange without the formalities of a traditional IPO. That means no road show, no underwriter and no offering price, according to a blog post by John Tuttle, NYSE's vice chairman and chief commercial officer.

"There's an understanding that capital raising can be decoupled from becoming a public company, and that's sparking a lot of questions about how and when a company should go public," NYSE dresident Stacey Cunningham said in an interview at an equity-market conference in Washington. "A direct listing is a new tool."

Representatives for Morgan Stanley and NYSE declined to comment on the Oct 21 event.

Some investors and startups are concerned about first-day price surges that often capture headlines, Joe Mecane, head of execution services at Citadel Securities, said on Wednesday in Washington. Even as this year featured several flops of high-profile IPOs, first-day pops have generated billions of dollars in gains for investors in US offerings.

Venture capitalists "feel like they've gotten shortchanged by the IPO process", said Mr Mecane, whose firm was the designated market maker on the direct listings of Slack Technologies and Spotify Technology. The two companies' chief financial officers will speak at the conference in San Francisco, one of the people said.

"We are bullish on direct listings," Colin Stewart, Morgan Stanley's global head of technology equity capital markets, said in an email. "On the back of Spotify and Slack, we believe every company that is considering going public should be having discussions in the boardroom about the direct listing option."

Morgan Stanley, this year's top-ranked underwriter of IPOs globally, worked on those two deals, creating the new role of adviser to the designated market maker. Goldman Sachs Group was also hired as an adviser to both companies. The two banks earned significant fees on the transactions because fewer banks were splitting the fee pool than on a traditional IPO.

"It's interesting to see people trying different methods of listing," Hester Peirce, a commissioner at the US Securities and Exchange Commission, said in an interview. "There haven't really been so many at this point that we have a lot of data, but it's a trend we're all watching. I'm watching it for sure."

The interest in direct listings comes as the IPO outlook is slowing for the rest of the year. Companies interested in selling shares will probably wait for markets to stabilise in 2020, Mr Mecane said.