IPOs for the masses

A global business leader wants IPOs for his countrymen, in Quartz

When Quartz launched, it said that its “mission is to serve today’s new class of global business leaders” who “have more in common with each other than they do with their countrymen.”

So it’s probably best to wonder about advice from said global business leaders in Quartz op-eds when it’s framed as helping their countrymen rather than their “post-national” cohort.

Take for instance this column by Scott Kupor of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz. Here’s the headline:

The US can battle wealth inequality by letting startups IPO earlier

What’s really “holding back the middle class in America,” according to Kupor, is a “series of byzantine regulations” that block “ordinary investors from getting in on the wealth creation, and hampers the creation of middle class jobs.”

IPOs democratize wealth creation and create jobs for the 99.9% of Americans who are unlikely to be the next Zuckerberg, fueling long-term economic growth for the country and guaranteeing access for all to the American Dream.

The non-propaganda version of this piece would have been headlined: “The Capitalist Wants an Exit.” Chevron’s paid-for native ads are more straightforward.

Andreessen Horowitz makes its money giving money to startup companies in the hopes of a rich IPO payday or acquisition somewhere down the road. The Andreessen there is Marc Andreessen, founder of Netscape, whose IPO kicked off the tech bubble, nearly tripling on its first day of trading, and who has a vested interest in an “IPO culture which Andreessen, almost more than anybody else, has managed to create,” in the words of Felix Salmon (an Audit contributor).

Felix also wrote this on how Andreessen makes his money timing markets (emphasis mine):

Andreessen’s current company, Andreessen Horowitz, is devoted to doing exactly that. Andreessen Horowitz does provide a bit of expert advice and name recognition, but at heart it doesn’t make anything at all; its sole predictable income stream is the management fee it skims off while investing other people’s money. Those investors, in turn, are not particularly interested in creating long-lasting standalone companies which have large profits and create jobs. Instead, they’re primarily interested in buying into any company, no matter how flash-in-the-pan, where Andreessen Horowitz can exit its investment for a large multiple of whatever it bought in at…

In his world, buy-and-hold public shareholders are the patsies, the people left holding the bag when the fast money has long since departed. He’s smart; the rest of us are chumps.

According to Kupor, it’s the government’s fault that the middle class folks missing out on IPO riches and all those jobs, and the answer to this is to loosen regulation (he’s a fan of the JOBS Act, naturally):

Over the past decade or so, regulatory changes have reduced the frequency with which the stocks of high-growth companies get offered to the public during their most dramatic phases of growth. That prevents ordinary investors from getting in on the wealth creation, and hampers the creation of middle class jobs.

Kupor blames this on decimalization, which moved stocks from trading in one-eight of a dollar increments to one-hundredth (pennies), and the Wall Street research settlement of 2003.

There’s nary a mention of how Silicon Valley and Wall Street buried the tech IPO market themselves with all their relentlessly hyped dot.bombs—ones that, oh by the way, savaged the retirement accounts of the middle-class people who got suckered into buying them.

Nor does he mention that ordinary investors don’t get shares in IPOs. They get shares after the IPO launches—from bigtime investors like Andreessen Horowitz who in selling them can lock in their profits.

When you see a wealthy investor framing his appeal for deregulation as a boost for the middle class, in other words, hold on to your wallet.

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at rc2538@columbia.edu. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum. Tags: , , , ,