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How IPOs Work

By: Ed Grabianowski & Patrick J. Kiger  | 

The Day of the IPO

ipo
Fresh Vine Wine co-owners Nina Dobrev (center, taking selfie) and Julianne Hough (center, in white dress) next to Fresh Vine Wine CEO Janelle Anderson and the executive team ring the closing bell on the day of their IPO at the New York Stock Exchange Dec. 16, 2021 in New York City. Craig Barritt/Getty Images

The day before the stocks are issued, the underwriter and the company must determine a starting price for the stocks [source: Hawk]. A target price will have been set early on in the process, but IPOs are rarely stable. Obviously, the higher the price, the more money the company gets; but if the price is set too high, there won't be enough demand for the stocks, and the price will drop on the open financial markets (where the stock will be traded after the initial offering). The ideal stock price will keep demand just higher than supply, resulting in a stable, gradual increase in the stock's price on the aftermarket. This will lead to praise from market analysts, which will in turn lead to increased value down the road.

Who gets to buy the shares during an IPO is a complicated matter. In most cases, your typical, individual investor doesn't get access to these offerings. Instead, the underwriter gets to allocate the shares to associates, clients and major investors of his choosing. Most of the shares will go to institutional investors, which are major brokerage firms and investment banks, and a few high-profile individual investors. These days, some online brokers offer what shares they're able to obtain to smaller-scale individual investors as well [source: Likos].

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After the initial offering, the stocks hit the open stock market, where they begin trading at a price set by market forces. IPO stocks tend to trade at a very high volume on that first day – that is, they change hands many times. Many IPOs do poorly, dropping in price the day of the offering. Others fluctuate, rising and then dipping again – it all depends on the confidence the market has in the company, how strong the company is versus the "hype" surrounding it, and what outside forces are affecting the market at the time.

After about a month, the underwriter issues a report on the IPO. This tends to give the stock a slight boost. After 180 days have passed, people who held shares in the company before its going public are allowed to sell their shares.

Originally Published: Aug 28, 2004

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