SAN FRANCISCO - Money managers have flooded underwriters with requests for shares as Snap prepares to sell stock to the public for the first time. But should the small investor buy Snap on its first day of trading?
Be cautious, financial advisers warn. If individual investors who were not allocated shares in the initial public offering are determined to get a piece of the action, they should put only as much money into Snap as they would be comfortable seeing disappear, much like the messages on the company's Snapchat service.
Still, interest in the parent of Snapchat (SNAP) is high on Main Street, according to commission-free trading app Robinhood. It surveyed 6,000 of its customers and found 35% said they would definitely buy Snap and 35% said they might buy Snap, with a minority, 30%, saying they did not plan on investing in the company.
Buying into a high-profile Internet IPO can be an alluring but dicey proposition for mom-and-pop investors. For every Google, there's a Groupon, and for every Facebook, there's a Twitter. Those divergent paths as publicly traded companies can mean the difference between a good return and a pile of losses.
If a retail investor is going to participate, he or she should do so with a "limit order," says Lise Buyer, partner with IPO Advisory firm Class V Group.
"That means, each should pick a price that is the most he or she is willing to pay rather than put in an 'I will pay anything to own this' order," Buyer said. "A limit order helps reduce the risk from the common situation where a stock is being offered on the IPO at $X price, but right out of the gate shoots up to $2X before stabilizing below that level."
Most retail investors will not be allocated shares at the IPO price, so that uncapped offer can be filled well above the initial price. "It is the 'just get me in at any price' investor who often historically has had subsequent regrets," she says.
The big winners when the five-year-old Venice, Calif., company debuts on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol SNAP will be the Snap founders and venture capital investors. Snap shares priced at $17 a share Wednesday after the market closed and are expected to begin trading Thursday. That was slightly above the expected range of $14 to $16 a share, giving the company a valuation of about $24 billion.
The selling points: Snap's buzzy messaging app is popular with a demographic coveted by advertisers, smartphone-toting teens and young adults. Some 158 million people use Snapchat every day. The average 20-year-old spends about 30 minutes a day on the service. Snap is also growing quickly, generating revenue last year of $404.5 million, more than six times what it generated in 2015.
On the downside, Snap is racking up losses. It lost $514.6 million in 2016, nearly 38% more than it lost in 2015. Overall Snapchat's audience is relatively small and growth in the number of daily users slowed toward the end of 2016. And, for all of Snapchat's popularity with young people, the messaging service has growing competition from Facebook, which is successfully copying its features, such as Stories on Instagram, which Facebook launched in August.
Another red flag for investors: Co-founders Evan Spiegel and Bobby Murphy control about 89% of the voting shares. Investors will have to be comfortable with the decisions those two make as Snap because they won't get any voting power along with shares they buy in the IPO.
And those are just a few of the reasons that Michael A. Yoshikami advises against snapping up Snap. He says investors should not be dazzled by the promise of high growth.
"If you want to take a gamble, you are welcome to throw money at it," said Yoshikami, CEO and founder of Destination Wealth Management in Walnut Creek, Calif. "But you won't be buying something with any reasonable, fundamental expectation of becoming the next Facebook."
Ken Marlin, founder and managing partner of Marlin & Associates in New York, says buying shares of Snap on the open market is exactly that: Gambling.
"This is entirely a bet on Snap's long-term future. It's a risky bet, with plenty of downside risk as well as plenty of upside potential if the bet pays off," Marlin said. "Retail investors should be wary. Spend what they would be willing to lose at a roulette table, no more."
Those who gamble sometimes win. Take Marlin's mother-in-law, who bought Facebook at around $38. It's now nearly $137. She has since sold some of her stake and is now playing with house money. Marlin, on the other hand, sat out the IPO.
"She’s happy," he said.