Twitter’s stock jumped 73 per cent in its first day of trading on Thursday, adding more than $10 billion to the company’s market capitalisation.

If the company had sold its 70 million shares at $45.10, the price of the first trade, instead of at $26, the price of the initial public offering, it would have raised $3.16 billion instead of its more modest $1.82 billion.

That math suggests that, as Dan Primack of Fortune wrote, Twitter left more than $1.3 billion on the table.

This is a common assertion when stocks soar in their first days of trading. It suggests that the bankers managing the offering miscalculated investor demand for shares, and that the company somehow lost out. Twitter shares were down more than 7 per cent on Friday.

The thorny questions

But unpacking this claim raises thorny questions about who, exactly, is supposed to benefit from an IPO, and what exactly is motivating investors when they seek shares in a new company.

Should a stock offering maximise value for the companies selling shares, for the investors looking to gobble those shares up, or for early employees and funders? And why are investors buying the shares because they love the company’s fundamentals or because they sense a good deal?

One school of thought says companies should use IPOs to raise the maximum amount of cash, regardless of what that does to its short-term share price.

It is not in Twitter’s interest to really care about the price they close at today, David Stewart, co-founder of a startup called JumpCam, said in an email on Thursday. What should matter to them is one, how much money they raise via the IPO, and two, their long-term valuation.

Mr. Stewart argues that Twitter and its banker, Goldman Sachs, widely miscalculated demand for the stock, depriving the company of cash in the bank and long-term market value.

There may be some truth to that, but Twitter is clearly satisfied with the amount of cash it raised, and now has access to the capital markets should it need to raise more money soon.

Investors make out well

As for the investors who bought the stock as part of the offering, they did indeed make out well. Those who were able to secure an allocation of shares recognised an instant 73 per cent gain on their investment.

Mr. Stewart and those who share his view argue that that’s an irresponsible move, transferring some value from Twitter to pre-IPO speculators.

But it is also in Twitter’s long-term interest to remain in the good graces of institutional investors that believe in the company and will continue to invest. After all, based on fundamentals alone, it was hard enough to justify valuing Twitter at $13 billion, let alone $30 billion.

As for the early employees, venture investors and those who managed to secure Twitter shares on the secondary market, they also made out well in the debut.

Sometimes insiders sell during the IPO. Such sellers might, therefore, favour pushing hard for a high offering price.

Such was the case at Facebook, where internal pressure for a lofty valuation contributed to its high offering price.

But no Twitter insiders sold stock as part of the offering, meaning their shares, valued at as little as $17 just a week ago, are now worth more than $40. With the shares still above the IPO price, Twitters insiders must feel rather pleased with how the offering was executed.

The truth is, there is no way to know how much money Twitter left on the table.

If Twitter had priced its shares more aggressively in recent weeks, the tenor of media coverage might have been more sceptical, investors might have been scared off and demand could have lagged.

Conservative pricing

By taking a more conservative approach to pricing, Twitter possibly deprived itself of some capital. But it won the good graces of the market, which will help determine its fate going forward.

Without a doubt, Twitter probably could have raised more money for itself by increasing its IPO price. But an IPO is far more than a fundraising exercise. When a company has publicly traded shares, it has taken the bracing step of putting itself at the mercy of investors. Twitters stock is now a public barometer of sentiment toward the company. That is something that had to be considered when pricing its IPO.

If the price had been much higher than $26, the stock might have plunged below the offering price on the first day of trading, setting off a swirl of negativity. Facebook’s shares sagged after its IPO, complicating managements efforts to convince investors that it was working on ways to increase advertising revenue.

Twitter still has to prove it can make money. But for now, at least, it has the confidence of the public markets. — New York Times News Service

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