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Global IPOs: Back in the game

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When COVID-19 closed the IPO window at the start of last year, expectations were bleak. But the market fought back and 2020 ended on a high

The impacts of the pandemic were inescapable, but the global IPO market registered significant successes during 2020, ending the year on a high

With much of the world in lockdown, COVID-19 inevitably depressed the global IPO market during the first half of last year. But while both the number and value of listings declined, 2020 was anything but a write-off for new issues, as the second half of the year saw a significant pick-up. A record-breaking year for the special purpose acquisition company (SPAC) market also provided a boost. 

Certainly, IPOs slowed to a trickle at times during H1 2020, notably at the height of the pandemic's first wave in Western Europe and North America in early spring. A year that began with promise—IPO activity was robust in January and February—was derailed by a black swan event.

However, certain sectors proved resilient. Technology, media and telecoms businesses, largely immune from the impacts of COVID-19, or even boosted by the pandemic, continued to come to market. The pharma, medical and biotech sector—at the center of the battle against the virus—also performed strongly.

Moreover, even businesses facing difficult market conditions proved that IPOs of attractive companies would continue to win support, and could be executed through the innovative use of technology. The listing of the coffee group JDE Peet's, managed through a three-day virtual roadshow, was a case in point.

This report, which features exclusive data provided by Mergermarket, considers the performance of the global market in 2020, highlighting key regions and trends. It also looks to the year ahead, finding real reasons for optimism, despite the ongoing impacts of COVID-19.

Global IPOs hit back strongly after COVID-19 crash

IPO activity ground to a halt following the outbreak of the pandemic, but activity in the second half of the year more than made up for the downturn

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Prime time for SPACs

After more than a decade of buildup, special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) have exploded and are gaining momentum in the US and beyond

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European IPO market on a rollercoaster ride in 2020

Early-year highs gave way to a pandemic-driven downturn, which was then followed by a revival in H2

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Latin America banks on Brazil as IPOs stage a recovery

Although COVID-19 hit the region hard, there was a surge of IPOs in the second half of last year, mainly centered around Brazil’s consumer industry



As the pandemic continues to overshadow financial markets and the global economy, the following factors will have a major impact on the IPO market in 2021

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As the pandemic continues to overshadow financial markets and the global economy, the following factors will have a major impact on the IPO market in 2021

2 min read

1. COVID-19

For the foreseeable future, the pandemic will determine the course of society, politics and economics, including whether the IPO market’s recovery is sustained. However, the ongoing vaccine rollout, the solid performance across all regions in H2 and a more stable political outlook could augur well for the future of IPOs.


2. Market volatility

The volatility in global equity markets in early 2020 effectively suspended the majority of listings. Since then, however, markets have largely been more stable. Investors have begun to feel more comfortable with the level of risk, and we have seen a swath of high-profile companies come to market.


3. Innovation in the IPO process

The virtual roadshows pioneered by issuers such as JDE Peet's and GVS provide a template for managing successful IPOs even in the most challenging circumstances. The extent to which companies coming to market—and their advisors and investors—are prepared to embrace such innovation will be a key determinant of the health of the IPO market. And even after the pandemic, many issuers will not want to return to the practices of the past.


4. Sustainable thinking

Investors are looking beyond returns, as ESG considerations become more important to their decisions. This is borne out by the 2019 RBC Global Asset Management Responsible Investing Survey, which reveals that 70 percent of institutional investors in Canada, the US and UK apply ESG principles to investment decisions.


5. The appeal of TMT

The resilience of the TMT IPO market—and particularly of technology companies—was a notable feature of 2020. Much-anticipated technology IPOs will continue to cause excitement during 2021, although a sell-off of US tech stocks in September last year may have given investors pause.


6. The year of the SPAC—again?

After SPACs grabbed headlines and broke volume and value records in 2020, investor interest is unlikely to waver. Whether the phenomenon will spread beyond the US remains to be seen. It will also be worth keeping an eye on direct listings. A NYSE rule change, which came into force in December, means that issuers can now raise capital through direct listings, and this could ramp up the market.



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This article is prepared for the general information of interested persons. It is not, and does not attempt to be, comprehensive in nature. Due to the general nature of its content, it should not be regarded as legal advice.

© 2021 White & Case LLP