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Birkenstock, the maker of cork-soled sandals, posted the worst market debut for an American company in over two years. Image Credit: Getty Images via AFP

Birkenstock Holding Plc, the 249-year-old footwear brand, stumbled onto Wall Street last week in a debut that could quash the fledgling rebound of initial public offerings.

The maker of cork-soled sandals closed down 12.6 per cent on Wednesday for the worst first-day showing in a US IPO of $1 billion or more in more than two years. Not since AppLovin Corp.’s April 2021 offering, with its 18.5 per cent day-one loss, has there been a worse such debut.

Bad market timing appears to have counteracted the Neustadt, Germany-based company’s conservative pricing strategy and its reliance on anchor investors. It also overshadowed a recent sales boost from the Hollywood blockbuster Barbie where Margot Robbie trades in her heels for a light pink pair.

The IPO was “definitely not the debut that Birkenstock was hoping for”, said Nicholas Smith, senior research analyst at Renaissance Capital. He added that the current market is more discerning and risk-averse, especially in the consumer sector.

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Birkenstock’s investor roadshow was book ended by a potential US government shutdown, public holidays in Germany and the US, delayed listings in Europe and an outbreak of war in Israel.

Wrong timing?

Timing can sometimes be everything when it comes to an IPO. Birkenstock’s investor roadshow was book ended by a potential US government shutdown, public holidays in Germany and the US, delayed listings in Europe and an outbreak of war in Israel.

These factors, combined with disappointing earnings from Birkenstock’s indirect backer LVMH, just hours before the new stock was set to open trading in New York, hurt its performance. LVMH, and the family that controls it, is a partner of Birkenstock’s owner, L Catterton.

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Rise in third-quarter revenue of LVMH, Birkenstock's indirect backer, which was below analysts' estimates. The Bernard Arnault's conglomerate said consumers were spending less, especially in Europe. The results dragged down other luxury stocks.

That cast a shadow over how some investors were viewing Birkenstock after books closed at noon Tuesday, one of the people said, and may have weighed on its trading debut. With markets already rattled by the Middle East, some larger accounts were reconsidering their appetite for the sector, they said.

A representative for Birkenstock declined to comment.

IPOs Pulled

Global stock market volatility earlier in October had already started to shake confidence even before Birkenstock’s IPO, with Triton earlier postponing its planned share sale for military gearbox maker Renk AG. A few hours before Birkenstock began trading, French software company Planisware postponed its IPO on Euronext Paris, citing challenging market conditions.

Birkenstock’s order book was covered more than eight times at the top of the range on Tuesday, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information. At the pricing meeting Tuesday at the Plaza hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the company and its private equity owner L Catterton decided to price at $46, just below the midpoint of the $44 to $49 marketed range, with the aim of ensuring a first day ‘pop’, the people said. The offering raised $1.48 billion.

Even at $46, the price might have been too rich compared to peers. That price valued the company at 4.9 times forward price to sales, while its footwear peer group trades at just two times, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Abigail Gilmartin.

Like the others in the fall IPO class, Birkenstock had lined up anchor investors as part of a strategy to stabilise the offering by assuring demand.

But anchor investors haven’t made the IPOs of late a sure victory. Instacart also tried that strategy and is still trading 15 per cent below its IPO price. It could be because these anchor investors don’t need to necessarily hold onto their shares, according to Josef Schuster, founder and chief executive officer of IPOX Schuster.

“We’ve also seen some of the cornerstone investment is not subject to any lock up requirements, so the allocation does not by default reduce liquidity,” Schuster said.