David Solomon, Goldman Sachs interview with David Faber, September 7, 2023.
The return of large tech IPOs this week after a prolonged drought isn’t just a test of investors’ appetite for risky new offerings — it’s a key moment for Wall Street’s top advisor, Goldman Sachs.
While they each operate in vastly different parts of the tech universe, the companies have one important thing in common: Goldman is a key advisor.
The stakes are high for everyone involved. Last year was the slowest for American IPOs in three decades, thanks to sharply higher interest rates, rising geopolitical tensions and the hangover from 2021 listings that fared poorly. Successful IPOs from Arm and others will boost confidence for CEOs waiting on the sidelines, and activity there would help revive other parts of finance including mergers and financing.
That would be meaningful for Goldman, which is more dependent on investment banking than rivals JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. Amid the industry’s slump, Goldman has suffered the worst revenue decline this year among the six biggest U.S. banks, and CEO David Solomon has contended with internal dissent and departures tied to strategic errors and his leadership style.
“This is the core of the core of what Goldman Sachs does,” Mike Mayo, Wells Fargo banking analyst, said in a phone interview. “Expectations are high, and they’re likely to meet those expectations. Should they fall short, there will be far more questions than anything we’ve seen so far.”
Goldman is lead-left advisor on Instacart and Klaviyo, meaning their bankers drive decisions, coordinate other banks and typically earn the biggest portion of fees. On Arm, Goldman shares top billing with JPMorgan, Barclays and Mizuho. Goldman also was named the deal’s allocation coordinator.
But the sought-after title of lead advisor comes with added scrutiny if the deals flop.
If shares of Arm or the other two IPOs fail to trade for a premium to the list price in coming weeks, dark clouds could form over the nascent market rebound. For Goldman, perceptions of a bungled process would feed doubts about the company under Solomon.
Unlike the bank’s unfortunate foray into consumer finance, Goldman’s position atop Wall Street’s league tables hasn’t budged. The bank has actually gained share in advisory and trading since Solomon took over in 2018.
But even in its traditional stronghold, there is room for cracks. Goldman is being investigated for its role advising Silicon Valley Bank in the days before its collapse.
Initial public offerings can be tricky transactions to navigate. Advisors need to properly gauge interest in shares and balance demands from clients while pricing shares so investors see upside.
While Arm’s offering is reportedly seeing high demand, there are nagging doubts about the company’s valuation, its large exposure to China and its ability to ride the artificial intelligence wave. The SoftBank-owned company’s valuation has waxed and waned in recent weeks, from as high as $70 billion initially to the roughly $55 billion that represents the top end of a target share price of $47 to $51.
“We believe investors should avoid this IPO, as we see very limited upside ahead,” David Trainer, CEO of research firm New Constructs, wrote Tuesday in a note. “SoftBank is wasting no time by offering Arm Holdings to the public markets, and at a valuation that is completely disconnected from the company’s fundamentals.”
Further, Arm is selling an unusually small slice of its overall stock, about 9%, which helps drive scarcity. That small public float means new investors will have fewer rights related to voting power and corporate governance, Trainer noted.
The IPO is expected to raise more than $5 billion for Arm and generate more than $100 million in fees for its bankers.
There are more than 20 tech companies weighing whether to go public in the next year or so if conditions remain favorable, according to bankers with knowledge of the market. While some have begun taking steps to list in the first half of 2024, according to the bankers, the situation is fragile.
“If those three don’t go well, it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the IPOs or M&A because people will lose confidence,” one of the bankers said.