NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Why Do IPO Auctions Fail?

Ravi Jagannathan, Ann E. Sherman

NBER Working Paper No. 12151
Issued in April 2006
NBER Program(s):   AP   CF   IO

We document a somewhat surprising regularity: of the many countries that have used IPO auctions, virtually all have abandoned them. The common explanations given for the lack of popularity of the auction method in the US, viz., issuer reluctance to try a new experimental method, and underwriter pressure towards methods that lead to higher fees, do not fit the evidence. We examine why auctions have failed and verify, to the extent possible, that they are consistent with what academic theory predicts. Both uniform price and discriminatory auctions are plagued by unexpectedly large fluctuations in the number of participants. The free rider problem and the winner's curse hamper price discovery and discourage investors from participating in auctions. Calculating the optimal bids in large multi-unit common value auctions with endogenous entry imposes a huge computational burden. With IPOs taking place sporadically, and each firm being different, auctions are likely to end up being unstable.

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This paper was revised on January 29, 2007

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Document Object Identifier (DOI): 10.3386/w12151

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