City & Corporate: PR firms hopeful of IPO upsurge

IPOs Agencies cautiously optimistic of project work resurgence as prospective London listings gather pace.

The increasing number of firms reportedly planning a London listing suggests financial PR may be emerging from its IPO famine.

Agency bosses, however, remain cautious, warning that improving conditions could easily deteriorate.

The international IPO market has experienced a major upswing in the early weeks of September. China has a $22bn (£13.87bn) pipeline of new offerings ready to roll and recently saw Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) raise $5.2bn. The story is similar in the US, where eight IPOs last week raised around $3.5bn.

The wave of listings, which include bumper listings in Brazil from HSBC and the biggest Australian IPO for two years from Myers, has yet to arrive in the UK.

But a number of agency sources told PRWeek firms were beginning to engage financial PR firms for prospective listings and several IPO-specific pitches had been taking place during September. One such process saw FD win a project brief with commercial dispute financier Burford Capital to assist its forthcoming listing of up to £200m on London's junior AIM market.

While modest in size, the flotation is likely to happen in mid-October, making it one of the very few London listings to have happened this year.

Bigger firms are expected to come to market in the near future, although most expect significant IPOs to wait until 2010. This week New Look, advised by Finsbury, is said to be considering a return to the London stock market in spring 2010, while Brunswick-advised Acromas Holdings, owner of the AA breakdown service, is also tipped for a 2010 listing.

Travel technology firm Amadeus, which changed retained agency from FD to tech specialists Bite this year, has reportedly engaged Rothschild to consider a multi-billion euro part-flotation, but the firm denied to PRWeek it was in discussions with any financial PR agencies.

A significant proportion of this activity looks to be driven by private equity firms looking for a stock market exit, given the difficulties in refinancing via the debt market.

But one agency boss noted that, although he had pitched for IPO-related accounts, these mandates offered 'mostly hope value' at the current time.

Also Tony Langham, chief executive at Lansons Communications, said concern remained about the level of institutional demand. 'If the stock market drops it will kill off a lot of that IPO activity immediately,' he said.

HOW I SEE IT - BOBBY MORSE, PARTNER, BUCHANAN COMMUNICATIONS

Agencies are definitely pitching for IPOs and getting signed up, but the real question is when will these IPOs happen? There are plenty of companies looking at the possibility of going public, but many have been considering it for some time and are still waiting for the right moment.

The uncertainty of the past year lingers on and institutional investors remain more interested in finding value in existing listed entities through discounted rights issues than new listings.

But we are beginning to see opportunities and if IPO activity picks up we could see a number of deals pricing this year.

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