Once a Europe-wide market with agreed regulation is in place, competition will window out the winners and losers among the member- bourses, on the basis of services and cost, or of the rival charms of the immediacy and size of quote-driven trading set against the keener prices of order-driven trading. Not a cosy prospect; but if the EC's existing exchanges do not submit to such a European framework, other artists will step in to deny them the adventure.
7. NEW ISSUES
Up to now, we have talked about the function of securities markets as trading markets, where one investor who wants to move out of a particular investment can easily sell to another investor who wishes to buy. We have not talked about another function of the securities markets, which is to raise new capital for corporations-and for the federal government and state and local governments.
When you buy shares of stockon one of the exchanges, you are not buying a "new issue". In the case of an old established company, the stock may have been issued decades ago, and the company has no direct interest in your trade today, except to register the change in ownership on its books. You have taken over the investment from another investor, and you know that when you are ready to sell, another investor will buy it from you at some price.
New issues are different. You have probably noticed the advertisements in the newspaper financial pages for new issues of stocks or bonds-large advertising which, because of the very tight restrictions on advertising new issues, state virtually nothing except the name of the security, the quantity being offered, and the names of the firms which are "underwriting" the security or bringing it to market.
Sometimes there is only a single underwriter; more often, especially if the offering is a large one, many firms participate in the underwriting group. The underwriters plan and manage the offering. They negotiate with the offering company to arrive at a price arrangement which will be high enough to satisfy the company but low enough to bring in buyers. In the case of untested companies, the underwriters may work for a prearranged fee. In the case of established companies, the underwriters usually take on a risk function by actually buying the securities from the company at a certain price and reoffering them to the public at a slightly higher price; the difference, which is usually between 1% and 7%, is the underwriters' profit. Usually the underwriters have very carefully sounded out the demand is disappointing-or if the general market takes a turn for the worse while the offering is under way-the underwriters may be left with securities that can't be sold at the scheduled offering price. In this case the underwriting "syndicate" is dissolved and the underwriters sell the securities for whatever they can get, occasionally at a substantial loss.
The new issue process is critical for the economy. It's important that both old and new companies have the ability to raise additional capital to meet expanding business needs. For you, the individual investor, the area may be a dangerous one. If a privately owned company is "going public" for the fist time by offering securities in the public market, it is usually does so at a time when its earnings have been rising and everything looks particularly rosy. The offering also may come at a time when the general market is optimistic and prices are relatively high. Even experienced investors can have great difficulty in assessing the real value of a new offering under these conditions.
Also, it may be hard for your broker to give you impartial advice. If the brokerage firm is in the underwriting group, or in the "selling group" of dealers that supplements the underwriting group, it has a vested interest in seeing the securities sold. Also, the commissions are likely to be substantially higher than on an ordinary stock. On the other hand, if the stock is a "hot issue" in great demand, it may be sold only through small individual allocations to favored customers (who will benefit if the stock then trades in the open market at a price well above the fixed offering price)
If you are considering buying a new issue, one protective step you can take is to read the prospectus The prospectus is a legal document describing the company and offering the securities to the public. Unless the offering is a very small one, it can't be made without passing through a registration process with the SEC. The SEC can't vouch for the value of the offering, but it does act to make sure that essential facts about the company and the offering are disclosed in the prospectus.
This requirement of full disclosure was part of the securities laws of the 1930s and has been a great boon to investors and to the securities markets. It works because both the underwriters and the offering companies know that if any material information is omitted or misstated in the prospectus, the way is open to lawsuits from investors who have bought the securities.
In a typical new offering, the final prospectus isn't ready until the day the securities are offered. But before that date you can get a "preliminary prospectus" or "red herring"-so named because it carries red lettering warning that the prospectus hasn't yet been cleared by the SEC as meeting disclosure requirements
The red herring will not contain the offering price or the final underwriting arrangements But it will give you a description of the company's business, and financial statements showing just what the company's growth and profitability have been over the last several years It will also tell you something about the management. If the management group is taking the occasion to sell any large percentage of its stock to the public, be particularly wary.
It is a very different case when an established public company is selling additional stock to raise new capital. Here the company and the stock have track records that you can study, and it's not so difficult to make an estimate of what might be a reasonable price for the stock The offering price has to be close to the current market price, and the underwriters' profit margin will generally be smaller But you still need to be