IPOs in Europe leapfrog U.S. as cheap valuations lure buyers

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

(c) 2013, Bloomberg News.

LONDON — The volume of initial public offerings in Europe jumped more than sixfold in the third quarter as investors lured by cheaper valuations and strengthening economies put their money to work in the region.

IPOs in Europe surged at more than double the pace of those in the U.S., according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as Deutsche Annington Immobilien SE, Germany's largest residential landlord, and British property broker Foxtons Group Plc sold shares. Volume rose more than 10 percent globally compared with a year earlier, weighed down by a 40 percent drop in Asia.

Investors are returning to Europe after European Central Bank President Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel helped ease the region's debt crisis and end the euro-area recession. While growth prospects at companies such as Twitter are stoking interest in U.S. IPOs later this year, $1 billion-plus offerings from Britain's Royal Mail Group Ltd. and London-based Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd. may get a boost from funds flowing toward Europe amid limited growth potential in the U.S., where stocks have climbed to records.

"There is a perception that the majority of the region's economic problems are behind us and we're going to see lower volatility levels," said Josef Ritter, head of equity capital markets for Europe at Deutsche Bank AG in London. "A key theme of this quarter was U.S. investors refocusing on Europe."

U.S. investors bought more than $65 billion of European equities between January and May, the most since before the financial crisis, Goldman Sachs analysts including Sharon Bell and Matthieu Walterspiler said in a report this month. European investment funds bought almost 80 billion euros of equities in the past 12 months and inflows into Europe should continue, they said in further research released later this month.

Expensive U.S. equities this year following the S&P 500 Index's 20 percent surge are making Europe a natural place to look for growth, said Hans Olsen, chief investment officer for the Americas at Barclays Wealth, a unit of Barclays Plc.

"It is very risky to be overweight at these prices so you start to look somewhere else. The standout was Europe," Olsen said.

Before Monday, member companies in the Euro Stoxx 50 Index were trading at about 13 times this year's estimated earnings, compared with more than 19 for companies on the Nasdaq Stock Market and the Nikkei 225 Stock Average, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

U.S. funds that invest in European equities attracted $13.1 billion in the six weeks through Sept. 18, Societe Generale SA and EPFR Global data show, even as investors withdrew $16.9 billion from funds buying U.S. stocks.

"This is the year of the European equities story," said Klaus Hessberger, co-head of equity capital markets for Europe at JPMorgan Chase & Co. in London. "It helps that there is still a valuation discount here versus in the U.S. and Asian markets." The last quarter should see about 10 to 15 more IPOs with an average deal size up to $500 million, he said.

Italian clothing maker Moncler plans to list shares as early as November in a sale that could raise about 1 billion euros ($1.35 billion), people familiar with the matter have said. French cable-TV operator Numericable SAS also plans an IPO in the third quarter and could be valued at as much as 5.5 billion euros in the sale.

Gross domestic product in the 17-nation euro area rose in the second quarter, bringing to a close six straight quarters of contraction, the longest slump since the euro's debut in 1999. The euro meanwhile had gained 5.5 percent against a basket of nine major peers in 2013 before today, the biggest jump in the group and poised for its first annual gain in five years, Bloomberg Correlation-Weighted Currency Indexes show.

Still, risks remain. While the European Central Bank raised its 2013 euro-zone economic projection this month, it still sees a 0.4 percent contraction and expects only a "gradual" pickup in activity.

A possible resurgence of political tensions, upcoming bank balance sheet assessment and deleveraging all could constrain the region's recovery next year, according to Philippe Gudin, chief European economist at Barclays in London.

"These headwinds pose some risk to our macroeconomic scenario and reinforce the view that the recovery will be very subdued," Gudin said.

While U.S. IPO volume lagged behind Europe in the third quarter, it still tripled to more than $11 billion from a year earlier. Sprouts Farmers Market Inc., the grocer partly owned by Apollo Global Management LLC, and Benefitfocus Inc., a benefits- software company, more than doubled in their trading debuts during the quarter as the stock-market rally stoked investors' confidence and appetite for risk.

That pace of IPO activity may set the stage for sustained momentum through the end of the year as long as the U.S. government doesn't begin to taper stimulus spending more quickly than investors are comfortable with, according to Ashley Delp, co-head of equity capital markets for the Americas at Jefferies Group LLC.

Empire State Realty Trust Inc., whose properties include Manhattan's Empire State Building, may raise as much as $1.07 billion in an IPO Tuesday. Microblogging service Twitter, which has more than 200 million members worldwide, said on its website Sept. 12 that it filed IPO paperwork confidentially with regulators.

_ With assistance from Fox Hu in Hong Kong.

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