Initial public offering

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An initial public offering (IPO), referred to simply as an "offering" or "flotation", is when a company (called the issuer) issues common stock or shares to the public for the first time. They are often issued by smaller, younger companies seeking capital to expand, but can also be done by large privately-owned companies looking to become publicly traded.

In an IPO the issuer may obtain the assistance of an underwriting firm, which helps it determine what type of security to issue (common or preferred), best offering price and time to bring it to market.

An IPO can be a risky investment. For the individual investor it is tough to predict what the stock or shares will do on its initial day of trading and in the near future since there is often little historical data with which to analyze the company. Also, most IPOs are of companies going through a transitory growth period, and they are therefore subject to additional uncertainty regarding their future value.

Contents

History

In 1602, the Dutch East India Company was the first company to issue stocks and bonds in the world in an initial public offering.[1]

In August 2010 the world's largest ever IPO was completed by the Agricultural Bank of China.[2]

Reasons for listing

When a company lists its shares on a public exchange, it will almost invariably look to issue additional new shares in order at the same time. The money paid by investors for the newly-issued shares goes directly to the company (in contrast to a later trade of shares on the exchange, where the money passes between investors). An IPO, therefore, allows a company to tap a wide pool of stock market investors to provide it with large volumes of capital for future growth. The company is never required to repay the capital, but instead the new shareholders have a right to future profits distributed by the company and the right to a capital distribution in case of a dissolution.

The existing shareholders will see their shareholdings diluted as a proportion of the company's shares. However, they hope that the capital investment will make their shareholdings more valuable in absolute terms.

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