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U.S. IPO market channels spirit of '99 to tee up bumper 2020

Aug 28 (Reuters) - A host of companies have filed for U.S. initial public offerings (IPOs) this week in the busiest period in recent history, as businesses rush to take advantage of ample investor appetite for new stocks.

Filings by the likes of data analytics company Palantir Technologies and cloud-based data warehouse firm Snowflake Inc underscore the rebound in the IPO market, which had all but ground to a halt in April due to the economic uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The likes of short-term home rental company Airbnb and food delivery company DoorDash are also gearing up for IPOs later this year.

It has teed up what dealmakers expect to be one of the busiest ever ends of the year.

“September, October is normally the busiest time of year for IPOs but I think the market is going to make history with the breadth of activity we’ll have this year,” said Jim Cooney, head of equity capital markets for the Americas at Bank of America.

There were 17 filings of registration statements to go public this week as of Friday morning, the highest in the last five years, Refinitiv data showed.

Action by the U.S. Federal Reserve earlier this year to pump cash into markets has driven equity markets back up to record highs despite the economic hit from the pandemic.

The rising stock market has made for a fertile IPO market, with the strong performance by new stocks also a crucial factor.

The average one-day gain for U.S. IPOs so far this year is 23.7%, compared to 12.8% in 2019 and 13.4% in 2018, according to data provider Dealogic. The average one-week return for 2020 is 25.4%, again outpacing 15.2% in 2019 and 11.9% in 2018.

Some companies have been able to notch eye-watering gains. Retail software firm BigCommerce Holdings Inc has seen its shares rise over 300% since its public debut earlier this month.

“There’s an exuberance throughout the IPO market that has resulted in investors being rewarded for participating and issuers being rewarded for fast-forwarding their IPO timelines,” Cooney said.

That exuberance has also been seen in Asia where Ant Group, Alibaba’s fintech arm and China’s dominant mobile payments firm, this week filed for a dual listing in Hong Kong and Shanghai which could raise as much as $30 billion to become the world’s largest IPO. It is a different story in Europe, where listing volumes were at their lowest in eight years in the first half of 2020.

“IT FEELS LIKE 1999”

The strong run of IPO pricings continued this week with Chinese electric vehicle maker Xpeng Inc. The company sold shares in its $1.5 billion IPO above its target range and saw its stock jump more than 50% on its New York Stock Exchange debt.

Companies have raised more than $70 billion in U.S. IPOs so far in 2020, already outpacing a $62.5 billion haul for all of 2019. That puts the year on track to be the busiest since 2014 and second-biggest since 2000.

Much of the IPO activity has been driven by so-called special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs), which are shell companies and raise money in an IPO to make an acquisition, typically within two years and are set for a record year.

This week, Gary Cohn, the former economic adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump, became the latest high-profile name to join the frenzy of SPAC dealmaking.

The breakneck pace for IPOs has evoked memories of the dot-com bubble at the turn of the century, with concerns the exuberance could lead to frothy valuations which are not sustainable in the long run.

“The levels of activity that we are seeing right now are at levels that we have not seen in a very long time,” said Tad Freese, managing partner of the Silicon Valley office of law firm Latham & Watkins. “It feels like 1999 again.”

Reporting by Joshua Franklin and Krystal Hu in New York, and Anirban Sen in Bangalore; Editing by Tom Brown

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