Can IPO Underpricing be Predicted?

| 10 min. read | By Olivia Foster
Explore the concept of IPO underpricing and whether it can be predicted to make informed investment decisions.

IPO underpricing has been a persistent issue that has puzzled investors and researchers for decades.

Underpricing occurs when an IPO’s offer price is lower than its opening price in the secondary market, resulting in missed revenue for the issuing company.

This underpricing may result in a “pop” in the stock price on the first day, leading to a potential loss of revenue for the issuing company.

The underpricing of an IPO can be attributed to several factors.

Factors Contributing to IPO Underpricing

Several factors contribute to IPO underpricing:

  • Asymmetric information: The information available to the underwriters is unevenly distributed, with insiders having the most data resulting in retail investors being more likely to pay more than what is considered fair value. This can lead to a situation where the IPO is underpriced, and investors can benefit from the “pop” on the first day of trading.
  • Market sentiment: The mood of the stock market can affect IPO prices. Bullish markets can lead to increased demand for new issues, which leads to underwriters setting lower offer prices to account for the risk. This can result in an underpriced IPO.
  • Price stabilization: Underwriters use legal tactics to ensure stable demand for IPOs, which may result in lower offer prices. If the issue is overpriced, the underwriters may purchase a portion of the stock, thus providing demand support, resulting in lower offer costs. This can lead to an underpriced IPO.

Historical Examples of IPO Underpricing

The following is a list of some of the biggest IPO underpricing examples:

  • Google’s 2004 IPO was priced at $85, but the market opened at $100 and closed at $100.34, representing an underpricing of 17.6%. The IPO was underpriced due to the high demand for Google shares and the bullish market sentiment at the time.
  • Facebook’s 2012 IPO was issued at $38 per share but closed at $38.23, resulting in an underpricing of just 0.6%. The IPO was priced fairly, and the market reacted positively to Facebook’s growth prospects.
  • Alibaba’s IPO on 2014 offered shares at $68, but opened and closed at $92.70, resulting in an underpricing of 36%. The IPO was underpriced due to the high demand for Alibaba shares and the bullish market sentiment towards Chinese e-commerce companies.

Overall, IPO underpricing can be a double-edged sword. While it can lead to a sudden increase in the stock price on the first day of trading, it can also result in a potential loss of revenue for the issuing company.

As such, companies must strike a balance between pricing their IPOs fairly and taking advantage of market demand for their shares.

Theories Behind IPO Underpricing

Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) have been a popular method for companies to raise capital by issuing shares to the public.

However, IPOs have been known to be underpriced, resulting in a loss of potential capital for the issuing company. Several theories have been proposed to explain this phenomenon.

Information Asymmetry Theory

The information asymmetry theory suggests that the underwriters of an IPO have more information about the issuing company than the public. This lack of transparency leads to investors underestimating the fair value of the issue.

Underwriters have access to insider information about the company, such as financial statements and growth projections, which are not available to the public. This information asymmetry results in a lack of confidence in the offering, leading to underpricing.

Moreover, underwriters have a conflict of interest as they are responsible for both pricing the IPO and selling the shares to the public.

This conflict of interest can lead to underpricing to ensure that the shares are sold quickly and to maintain a good relationship with the issuing company.

Signaling Theory

The signaling theory suggests that underpricing an IPO signals that the issuing company is confident in its overall value.

By pricing the offering lower than market appreciation, the company is indicating that it is willing to forego some of its potential capital to attract investors.

This confidence should increase investor demand and lead to a higher demand for issuance, allowing the issuing company to raise more capital.

However, the signaling theory can also have negative effects. If the market perceives the underpricing as a lack of confidence in the company, it can lead to a decrease in demand for the shares.

Bookbuilding Theory

The bookbuilding theory claims that underwriters are in the best position to understand demand and the fair value of an IPO.

Underwriters survey institutional investors and “build a book” of interested buyers, allowing them to adjust the price accordingly.

By adjusting the price to reflect the demand for the shares, underwriters can issue a stock at a fair price.

However, underwriters may overestimate the demand for shares, leading to overpricing, or underestimate the demand, resulting in underpricing.

Additionally, the bookbuilding process can be influenced by the underwriters’ relationship with institutional investors, leading to a potential conflict of interest.

Ownership Dispersion Theory

The ownership dispersion theory postulates that the top executives of a company should hold more shares to influence the IPO price and underpricing trends.

By holding more shares, executives have a greater stake in the success of the company and are more likely to ensure that the IPO is priced correctly.

However, the effectiveness of this theory is currently under review. Some argue that executives may have a conflict of interest in setting the IPO price, as they may prioritize their personal gains over the interests of the company and its shareholders.

In conclusion, IPO underpricing can be attributed to several factors, including information asymmetry, signaling, bookbuilding, and ownership dispersion. While each theory has its merits, it is essential to consider the potential conflicts of interest that underwriters and executives may have in pricing an IPO.

Methods for Predicting IPO Underpricing

Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) are an exciting time for companies as they transition from private to public ownership. However, for investors, IPOs can be a risky investment as they are often underpriced, leading to missed opportunities for profit.

Over the years, various techniques have been used to try and predict IPO underpricing. The most common ones are:

Financial Statement Analysis

This approach is based on the income statement and balance sheet analyses to determine a company’s profitability and financial health.

Analysts use multiples such as price-to-earnings (P/E) and price-to-Sales (P/S) ratios to evaluate the firm’s overall value.

However, it is important to note that financial statement analysis alone may not provide a complete picture of a company’s future performance, as it does not take into account external factors such as market trends and competition.

Market Sentiment Indicators

Under this approach, market sentiment indicators such as the VIX index may be used to forecast expected equity returns. These indicators assist the underwriter in determining reasonable offer prices.

However, market sentiment can be volatile and subject to sudden shifts, making it a less reliable predictor of IPO underpricing.

Industry Comparisons

Investment bankers often compare the IPO firm to its industry rivals. By doing so, they can evaluate the company’s performance relative to others in the marketplace when determining a fair price and potential underpricing.

This approach takes into account external factors such as market trends and competition, providing a more comprehensive analysis of the company’s potential performance.

Underwriter Reputation

Lastly, prior to a Public Offering, underwriter reputation may be the most critical factor to consider.

The stronger the reputation of the underwriter, the stronger their ability to price and allocate IPO shares, leading to less underpricing.

A reputable underwriter can also provide valuable guidance to the company during the IPO process, ensuring a successful transition to public ownership.

While each of these methods can provide valuable insights into IPO underpricing, it is important to remember that no single approach can guarantee accurate predictions.

A combination of these methods, along with careful analysis of external market factors, can provide a more comprehensive understanding of a company’s potential performance and help investors make informed decisions.

Empirical Studies on IPO Underpricing Predictions

Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) are a crucial part of the financial market as they provide companies with an opportunity to raise capital by selling shares to the public for the first time.

IPO underpricing is a phenomenon where the IPO’s market price is higher than its offer price, resulting in a loss for the issuer. Several empirical studies have attempted to predict IPO underpricing.

In this section, we’ll explore the successes and limitations of previous research and recent advances in prediction models and other notable approaches.

Successes and Limitations of Previous Research

A significant limitation in understanding IPO underpricing is the lack of public information. Financial statements may be rather deficient or incomplete, making it challenging to predict the actual IPO Offer price. Moreover, the reaction of public investors can also be difficult to predict due to continuously shifting market trends.

Despite these challenges, several studies have made significant strides in predicting IPO underpricing with varying degrees of success.

For instance, some studies have used the book-building process, where the issuer and underwriter determine the offer price by collecting bids from institutional investors, to predict the IPO underpricing.

Other studies have used variables such as market conditions, issuer characteristics, and underwriter reputation to predict IPO underpricing.

However, these studies have their limitations. For example, some studies have used data from a specific time period, making it challenging to generalize their findings. Additionally, some studies have used a small sample size, which may not accurately represent the entire population of IPOs.

Recent Advances in Prediction Models

Recent advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) have shown great promise for predicting IPO underpricing.

While it is still too early to say conclusively, utilizing these new forecasting models allows greater insights into the equity markets and the potential trends or movements in the short term.

Machine learning and AI-based models can analyze vast amounts of data from various sources, such as social media, news articles, and financial statements, to predict IPO underpricing.

These models can identify patterns and trends that may not be immediately apparent to human analysts, providing a more accurate prediction of IPO underpricing.

Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence Approaches

The use of Machine Learning and other Artificial Intelligence approaches enables institutions with vast amounts of data to analyze these trends and adjust to real-time market movements or changes, ultimately influencing these predictions.

Additionally, these models can continuously learn and improve, resulting in more accurate predictions over time.

However, these models are not without their challenges. For instance, these models require large amounts of data to train effectively, and the quality of the data can significantly impact their accuracy.

Additionally, these models can be complex and challenging to interpret, making it difficult for investors to understand the factors driving the prediction.

In conclusion, while predicting IPO underpricing remains a challenging task, recent advancements in machine learning and artificial intelligence have shown great promise in improving the accuracy of these predictions. As these technologies continue to evolve, we can expect to see more accurate and reliable predictions of IPO underpricing in the future.


Can IPO underpricing be predicted? The answer is both yes and no. Underwriter reputation and using comparative industry analysis gives us sound tools to evaluate IPOs.

Recent advances in machine learning and AI provide promising new tools to assess the issue market, but this must be employed cautiously, with research needing time to corroborate the efficacy of these approaches.

In the meantime, investors shouldn’t avoid IPOs altogether. Instead, they should consider historical data, trends, and the underwriters’ reputation when making their investment decisions.

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