FRANKFURT Europe is braced for a flurry of stock market listings in the next two months as firms use annual results as launching pads for share sales -- and hope to complete deals before investors disappear for the Easter break.
Issuers are keen to take advantage of buoyant and relatively stable stock markets, bankers say, and -- with an extended holiday looming -- they are rushing to launch their initial public offerings (IPOs) in the next few weeks.
As well as the long Easter weekend across much of Europe, in Britain an extra public holiday the following week due to a royal wedding means there will be just three working days between Apr. 22 and May 2, with many bankers and investors taking advantage of the extended break to take a holiday.
March and April were among the busiest months for new listings last year, with 19 and 14 European IPOs respectively.
"There is always a certain seasonality in the IPO market because launching off the back of audited year-end financial statements is a fairly natural way of proceeding," said Craig Coben, head of equity capital markets (ECM) for EMEA at Bank of America Merrill Lynch.
"One of the key problems this year is the confluence of Easter, the May bank holiday and the royal wedding, which will make for a particularly tight window. You don't want to be marketing your transactions when investors are on holiday."
OUT OF THE STARTING BLOCKS
Bankers say the line-up of expected offerings spans a wide range of geographies, sectors and market caps.
Among those already under way are a $2.4 billion Copenhagen offering from Danish outsourcing firm ISS, due to be completed next month, while French media group Lagardere (LAGA.PA) plans to float its minority stake in pay-TV channel Canal+ by April.
Others widely tipped to launch in the coming weeks include commodities trading giant Glencore, which could be London's biggest-ever IPO, and a float of container shipping group Hapag-Lloyd HPLG.UL by Germany's TUI AG (TUIGn.DE).
Belgian banking and insurance group KBC's (KBC.BR) planned float of Czech unit CSOB is also in the works.
Although the first half of this month saw a string of pulled or drastically downsized listings by Russian firms, investors blamed too-high valuations rather than market conditions, and several other European listings have proved successful.
A resurgence in investor confidence and improved liquidity as the impact of the sovereign debt crisis wanes both point to an increase in the number of listings coming to market before Easter, said Herbert Harrer of global law firm Linklaters.
These favorable conditions may not last all year, however, prompting some to insist that now is the time to act.
"Whoever is in the starting blocks for an IPO should get going now -- the development of CDS spreads shows that fear is returning and markets may not be open forever," said Andreas Bernstorff, who oversees Citi's ECM business in Germany where as many as 20 IPOs are expected this year -- a level not seen since before the financial crisis.
With so many deals trying to get away before Easter, the glut of several bookbuilds running along side each other could mean some struggle to attract investor interest and get pulled, one London-based equity capital markets banker said.
But others maintain demand is there for the right deal.
"There is capacity. The market conditions are there, the liquidity is there. The challenge is positioning the equity story," said Coben.
"Investors will support issues if they have a reasonable yield, reasonable growth prospects and they are fairly priced."
(Additional reporting by Alexander Huebner, Kerstin Leitel and Kathrin Jones in Frankfurt and Kylie MacLellan in London; Writing by Kylie MacLellan; Editing by Hans Peters)