Index Funds and IPOs

A poster on the forum brought up a great question on whether index funds would be forced to buy the upcoming Facebook IPO. The worry is that the index funds will load up on the IPO and take a loss later as the IPO price comes back down to Earth.

No, this isn’t likely to happen.

IPOs are, for the uninitiated, one of the worst investments to buy. The company and investment bankers hold all the cards. They set the date for the offering, set the price, set the shares to be issued, grease the skids with brokers by allowing some early access (which they’ll dump after the price goes up), etc. Never buy IPOs no matter how tempting the media hype says they are.

So why won’t the index funds go out and load up on a big IPO like Facebook? Well, they have entry requirements for the most part. The S&P index formulation requires IPOs not only be listed for a certain period of time (6-12 months), but also have a certain number of profitable quarters before they would be added. These guys weren’t born yesterday!

From Standard and Poor’s Eligibility Requirements starting on Pg. 5

S&P U.S. Indices Methodology

Specifically, these two points will keep most of the IPO hype at bay:

Financial Viability. Usually measured as four consecutive quarters of positive as- reported earnings. As-reported earnings are Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) net income excluding discontinued operations and extraordinary items. For REITs, financial viability is based on both as-reported earnings and Funds From Operations (FFO). FFO is a measure commonly used in REIT analysis.

Another measure of financial viability is a company’s balance sheet leverage, which should be operationally justifiable in the context of both its industry peers and its business model.

Treatment of IPOs. Initial public offerings should be seasoned for 6 to 12 months before being considered for addition to an index.

The index funds are not going to load up on Facebook when they go public (or they shouldn’t!). This is actually another good reason to own index funds and not actively managed funds that do not have these screening rules before buying stocks. Index funds still remain the single best way to own exposure to the stock market.

Now, if you really want to own a new IPO company for your variable portfolio (for money you can afford to lose), then let it just simmer for about six months and then buy into it. By then the price normally will have settled (usually lower) and you’ll have a better chance of making a profit.

EDIT: The Finance Buff asked about other indices like Russell 3000 and Wilshire 5000. These indices are more lax than S&P and will reformulate and bring in IPOs sooner. However they still have a lag time and it is not likely they will be going out and immediately bring in Facebook IPO based on their formulation criteria which I list below:

Russell Index Formulation and Methodology

Russell lists out the specifics on how IPOs are added beginning on Pg. 8.

Wilshire has their methodology here. They will do monthly, but it doesn’t look like the Facebook IPO is going to be snapped up immediately either:

Wilshire Index Methodology

In the past when someone asked what Small Cap value fund to use of Russell 2000 vs. S&P 600 for instance I would steer them towards the S&P versions because of their more sane screening process to weed out IPOs. I think S&P’s handling of IPOs is a smarter way to do it vs. their competitors.

Craig Rowland

I own the place.

  • http://thefinancebuff.com TFB

    What about index funds that track other indexes such as DJ Wilshire 5000 or Russell 3000? I believe the total market funds will buy it.

  • http://www.crawlingroad.com craigr

    I tried to lookup the criteria that Vanguard uses earlier today and couldn’t find it. The Russell funds use a more lax approach and will add IPOs quarterly if they meet other criteria. But that looks like at least a month or so before they would consider adding Facebook:

    http://www.russell.com/indexes/documents/Methodology.pdf

    Russell lists out the specifics on how IPOs are added beginning on Pg. 8.

    Wilshire has their methodology here. They will do monthly, but it doesn’t look like the Facebook IPO is going to be snapped up immediately either:

    http://web.wilshire.com/Indexes/W5000_Methodology_2010_001.pdf

    In the past when someone asked what Small Cap value fund to use of Russell 2000 vs. S&P 600 for instance I would steer them towards the S&P versions because of their more sane screening process to weed out IPOs.

  • http://www.crawlingroad.com craigr

    I updated my post to reflect the above. Thanks for your comment.