Feb 7 (Reuters) - With U.S. equity markets approaching record highs, bankers are rushing to take large companies public while the going is still good.
In January, 76 companies sold shares in the United States, including both initial public offerings and secondary offerings, raising a total of $18.2 billion and marking the best start to a year since January 2008, according to Thomson Reuters data. All but one of the offerings were sold at a price within or above dealers' expected range, according to market data firm Ipreo, and in some cases, investor demand for IPO shares far exceeded supply.
More deals are in the pipeline, including some potentially big issues from private-equity backed companies. Blackstone Group LP-backed packaged foods maker Pinnacle Foods and TPG-backed home builder Taylor Morrison Home Corp are being queued up to go public as soon as next month, according to sources familiar with the deals. Although the size of the IPOs is not yet clear, the companies are expected to be valued well into the billion-dollar range. Pinnacle Foods and Taylor Morrison could not be reached for comment.
"There's a level of confidence in the market that we haven't seen in several years, and investors will back companies that have a compelling story," said Joe Reece, global head of equity capital markets at Credit Suisse.
The growing demand for initial public offerings is the latest sign that financial markets are returning to normal after the U.S. elections, the European debt crisis, and the U.S. "fiscal cliff" negotiations slowed trading in many asset classes. The global economy is now showing signs of improvement as well. The apparent resurgence in markets and the economy is a big boon for banks suffering from slow earnings growth, and for companies looking to raise equity.
Investor demand for IPOs is also a big relief for private equity firms, which have dozens more companies to sell as a result of the buyout boom in the middle of the last decade.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose above 14,000 for the first time since October 2007 thanks in large part to growing investor confidence. Investment bankers, who had been cautious since mid-2012, are telling companies that now is the time to launch deals, and exchanges are bracing for more listings.
"Now, we're hearing optimism about global growth and the ability of governments to address the fiscal issues that are going on," said Scott Cutler, executive vice president and head of global listings at NYSE Euronext. NYSE last year won about 60 percent of new listings, up from 55 percent the year before, according to Ipreo.
The Standard & Poor's 500 index rose 13 percent in 2013 and rock-bottom interest rates are keeping returns on bonds low. Investors have responded by pouring money into stock funds. In January, U.S. equity mutual funds had $21 billion of inflows, marking the largest monthly inflow since mid 2000, according to Thomson Reuters Lipper Data.
That equity demand is spilling over to the initial public offering markets. Zoetis, a maker of animal medicines and vaccines that was spun off from Pfizer last week, had about 15 orders from investors for every share on offer. Plywood and lumber maker Boise Cascade and homebuilder TRI Point Homes LLC were similarly oversubscribed, according to sources familiar with the deals.
"People are looking to find ideas and stories they feel are going to work," said Frank Maturo, vice chairman for equity capital markets at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
Private equity firms loaded up on companies before the financial crisis, but have since often had trouble exiting them. Companies that have gone private can be a tough sell to IPO investors because they often have high debt levels.
But in recent weeks, companies like Bain Capital-backed Bright Horizons Family Solutions Inc and Apollo Global Management-backed Norwegian Cruise Line performed well after going public in January.
Shares of child care center operator Bright Horizons have risen 27 percent, while shares of cruise line operator Norwegian Cruise have risen 50 percent.
Madison Dearborn-backed Boise Cascade, which debuted on the New York Stock Exchange on Wednesday, increased its price range in a sign of strong investor demand and its shares rose 25 percent on their first day of trading.
More of these deals are likely on the way. Private equity firms have filed for 57 initial offerings, for more than $11.9 billion in total proceeds, according to Ernst and Young.
"The advice we're giving to clients is to select their bankers and get their lawyers and accountants working to get into the queue as quickly as possible, because we think there's going to be a bulge of business once year-end audits have been completed," said Brad Miller, global co-head of the equity syndicate desk at Deutsche Bank.