Recently, at a meeting of the SEC’s Small Business Advisory Committee, a panel provided an update on the state of play of the IPO market. While IPO activity—traditional IPOs, SPACs and direct listings—was off-the-charts in the second half of 2020 and throughout 2021, geopolitical upheavals, market volatility, inflationary pressure, economic uncertainty and fears of recession have put a dent in the data. Quite a dent—the number of equity capital markets offerings has decreased 73% compared to a year ago, according to one of the panelists. But does that mean the IPO market is broken? Not at all. Despite the recent relatively moribund market, companies are continuing to prepare for IPOs and submit confidential filings to the SEC with the intent of going forward when an opening is in sight. As one of the two panelists observed, “despite the 2022 IPO drought, the pipeline for companies looking to access the public markets at some point in the future remains strong.” According to SEC Chair Gary Gensler’s statement at the meeting, “naturally, the number of IPOs ebbs and flows over the course of different economic and market cycles. We are living in one of those transitional times right now, shaped by economic uncertainty relating to the war in Ukraine, the pandemic, and central banks shifting from an accommodating to a tightening policy stance. What I am most interested in is the advice you might have for the long-term regarding traditional IPOs, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs), and direct listings.” And he did hear some of that advice, albeit preliminarily, from the Committee.
Congress now seems to be all over this SPAC phenomenon. Last week a subcommittee of the House Financial Services Committee held a hearing on “Going Public: SPACs, Direct Listings, Public Offerings, and the Need for Investor Protections.” What is the headline from the hearing? All the witnesses agreed that, to prevent regulatory arbitrage, all IPO vehicles, whether traditional IPOs or SPACs, should operate on a level playing field and be subject to the same type of regulation of disclosure and liability. Many House members also took the opportunity to promote their own proposed or pending legislation about the capital markets, and several House members offered their recommendations for a happy marriage. At a separate hearing, SEC Chair Gary Gensler gave testimony before a different subcommittee, which in part addressed SPACs. Is some kind of Congressional action in the offing?