Omicron Threatens to Spoil IPO Coming-Out Parties

It is a brand new year, but for listing exchanges and companies making stock-market debuts, the start of 2022 feels like a rewind to 2020.

Soaring Covid-19 cases in the U.S. are sending Americans back into retreat. The wave also has companies that are on deck for initial public offerings re-evaluating their listing-day plans and, in some cases, delaying debuts.

The New York Stock Exchange and Nasdaq Stock Market are still allowing some in-person bell ringings, a highly coveted—and sometimes fought-over—event. But in late December, NYSE raised the bar for its guests, mandating that they now be vaccinated and submit a negative Covid-19 test up to 24 hours before their scheduled visit. In the past, unvaccinated guests could visit the NYSE as long as they submitted a negative test.

In December, Nasdaq also tightened its guest policy, and changed its negative testing requirement to 24 hours in advance of a visit from 48 hours. All guests also still need to show proof of vaccination.

Many companies and banks also are returning to remote work. Unlike in spring 2020, however, exchanges, bankers and traders are fully prepared to launch IPOs from afar. Companies’ roadshow pitches to investors over computer screens instead of in conference rooms are now the norm. Traders are also comfortable opening stocks from their kitchen counters instead of on trading floors.

Private-equity firm TPG, the biggest IPO on the (virtual) road right now, originally hoped for an in-person celebration for its IPO. But as the contagious Omicron variant of coronavirus swept the country, those plans changed. It is now set to bring a small group of executives to ring the bell when it goes public on the Nasdaq next week, but plans are still flexible, according to people familiar with the matter.

Executives at Los Angeles-based online banking app Dave Inc. planned to travel to New York for a big celebration around its stock-market debut last Thursday, but pivoted after seeing rapidly rising Covid-19 infection rates.

“Nasdaq shipped us the podium, and we rebuilt it in our headquarters where we first started the business,” said Chief Executive Jason Wilk. “It was a full-circle moment for us.”

Scientists are using automation, real-time analysis and pooling data from around the world to rapidly identify and understand new coronavirus variants before the next one spreads widely. Photo Illustration: Sharon Shi

Bankers, exchange officials and others close to companies planning 2022 IPOs said Omicron is throwing off some early January IPO plans. Of course, there are other factors likely at play, too: a volatile stock market and spotty recent IPO performance.

Despite record-breaking IPO issuance in 2021, traditional offerings struggled following their debuts. By late December, nearly two out of every three companies that went public last year were trading below their IPO prices. Last Wednesday, stocks dropped sharply after minutes from the recent Federal Reserve meeting showed Fed officials discussed a faster timetable for raising rates.

This year is still expected to be big for new listings, with buzzy companies including Reddit Inc. and food maker Chobani Inc. lined up to go public.

Despite the recent Covid-19 wave, not all executives are shying away from in-person events. On Friday, rocket maker Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc.’s CEO rang the opening bell at the Nasdaq.

And it isn’t just executives Virgin Orbit brought: Despite a snowstorm, the company set up one of its full-scale model rockets in the middle of Times Square. The splashy event helped celebrate Virgin Orbit’s merger with a special-purpose acquisition company. There was one conspicuous absence: Founder Richard Branson didn’t attend in person. On Thursday, he revealed he tested positive for Covid-19.

Write to Corrie Driebusch at

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