Initial Public Offerings

Jay R. Ritter


An initial public offering (IPO) occurs when a security is sold to the general public for the first time, with the expectation that a liquid market will develop. Although an IPO can be of any debt or equity security, this article will focus on equity issues by operating companies.

Most companies start out by raising equity capital from a small number of investors, with no liquid market existing if these investors wish to sell their stock. If a company prospers and needs additional equity capital, at some point the firm generally finds it desirable to “go public” by selling stock to a large number of diversified investors. Once the stock is publicly traded, this enhanced liquidity allows the company to raise capital on more favorable terms than if it had to compensate investors for the lack of liquidity associated with a privately-held company. Existing shareholders can sell their shares in open-market transactions. With these benefits, however, come costs. In particular, there are certain ongoing costs associated with the need to supply information on a regular basis to investors and regulators for publicly-traded firms. Furthermore, there are substantial one-time costs associated with initial public offerings that can be categorized as direct and indirect costs. The direct costs include the legal, auditing, and underwriting fees. The indirect costs are the management time and effort devoted to conducting the offering, and ...

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