TORONTO (Reuters) - More than a few Canadian companies are ready to go public, though only a handful - some gutsy tech startups with heavy backing -- are likely to brave the recent market turbulence and take the final step.
Over the past weeks, initial public stock offerings by Canadian companies have not fared so well, raising less cash than expected in some cases and dropping below their IPO price soon after trading began in others.
Despite months of preparation, sponsors of some issues have pulled or delayed them after prospective buyers proved disinterested.
Even so, investors at last week’s annual Canadian Venture Capital and Private Equity Association meeting in Ottawa were upbeat about the health of the IPO market. Most of those interviewed see activity picking up soon as confidence returns from its nadir during the global financial crisis.
“I think we should expect to see a lot more (IPOs) through the balance of the year, unless there’s some other major new (market) event,” said Rick Nathan, managing director at Kensington Capital Partners, a Toronto-based firm with some C$500 million in capital under management.
The names bandied about at the CVCA meeting, the largest annual industry gathering of its kind in Canada, were mostly in technology fields.
At least three were on most everybody’s lips as key IPO candidates: ViXs, a Toronto-based semiconductor company that makes advanced video processing products; BelAir Networks, an Ottawa-based wi-fi solutions company; and Smart Technologies, a Calgary-based maker of electronic whiteboards backed by the venture capital arm of Intel Corp (INTC.O).
Smart Technologies has been pegged as an IPO candidate for the past year, and a story in Canada’s Globe and Mail said on Friday an IPO could value the company at some C$2 billion, with the founders keeping a third of the company.
At the conference last week, the head of one venture capital firm said the IPO could raise some C$400 million.
ViXs is also seen as ready for IPO, with investors pointing at major backing in Canada and the United States as evidence of a worthy pedigree.
One investor with knowledge of the company and its managers said ViXs would be more likely to look at a U.S. listing on the Nasdaq due to the nature of its backers.
In Canada, ViXs has the backing of Celtic House Venture Partners, one of the country’s most active investors in private information and communications technology, with C$315 million ($297 million) in assets under management.
It also has the backing of NEA, a U.S.-based firm with $11 billion in assets under management and which in the past 30 years has invested in 165 companies that have gone public.
BelAir Networks is backed by Export Development Canada, a self-financed crown corporation that helps finance Canadian exporters, and by Panorama Capital, a Silicon Valley-based fund with Canadian managers.
The company, which provides WLAN market services globally, was founded in 2001 and has customers that include AT&T and Cablevision.
On its website, it also says it is backed by investment from Comcast Interactive Capital, T-Mobile Venture Fund and leading venture capital firms including Trilogy Equity Partners.
But what may stop any of these companies going forward with an IPO is a market that’s still subject to turbulence, as the recent European debt crisis proves.
Case in point is Porter Airlines, who’s bold plan to go public in April appears to be fizzling, with institutional investors less than excited about buying into the opportunity.
Institutions like pension fund managers are vital to any IPO deal because they normally account for purchase of about 75 percent of the issue.
The Globe and Mail reported Friday that Porter Aviation Holdings Inc was chopping the stock price on its C$120 million public offering, to about C$5.50 a share from between C$6 and C$7 a share. The newspaper cited “an industry official familiar with the IPO” as its source.
“Right now a lot of these IPOs are on hold because of the Europe fiasco,” said Rob Chaplinsky, a U.S.-based technology investor and the managing director of Bridgescale Partners, a Silicon Valley-based investor in technology companies.
So far this year initial public offerings in Canada have raised some C$2.84 billion, including over-allotments, compared with C$1.97 billion in all of 2009 and some C$700 million in 2008, according to Thomson Reuters data.
Reporting by Pav Jordan, Editing by Frank McGurty