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Pinterest Soars in Debut in 2019’s Second-Biggest US IPO

Pinterest Inc. rose as much as 32 percent in its trading debut after raising $1.4 billion in the second-biggest U.S. initial public offering of the year.

Shares of the digital-scrapbooking company opened at $23.75. They were up 30 percent to $24.79 at 2:49 p.m. in New York trading Thursday, giving the company a market value of about $13.1 billion.

The listing is second in the U.S. this year only to Lyft Inc.’s $2.34 billion offering in March. Their IPOs will likely be eclipsed by Uber Technologies Inc. Ride-hailing’s global behemoth will seek to raise about $10 billion in May in an offering valuing it at about $100 billion, people familiar with its plans have said.

Pinterest’s strong showing, along with an even stronger first-day performance by Zoom Video Communications Inc. on Thursday, signals continuing investor thirst for new stocks amid a surge of unicorns — startups valued at $1 billion or more — coming to market. Other high-profile companies considering going public include Slack Technologies Inc., Postmates Inc., Palantir Technologies Inc. and Airbnb Inc.

“Today’s opening pop in the shares of Zoom and Pinterest suggests that investors are not looking at ‘risky’ unicorns as a group, but instead are valuing each company on their merits,” Alejandro Ortiz, principal analyst at SharesPost Inc., said in a emailed statement.

Lyft Fears

Fears that Lyft’s sagging stock — it’s fallen 19 percent from its $72 IPO price — would bode poorly for other unicorns appear to have been overblown, Ortiz said.

Pinterest sold 75 million shares Wednesday for $19 each, after marketing them for $15 to $17. At the offer price, the IPO valued the San Francisco-based company at about $12.8 billion, including restricted stock and options, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Pinterest’s last valuation, from a private funding round in 2017, was $12.3 billion.

The offering was led by Goldman Sachs Group Inc., JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Allen & Co. Pinterest trades on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol PINS.

Pinterest operates in a crowded digital marketing space, where Google and Facebook Inc. get the lion’s share of ad dollars. Pinterest has taken a slow and steady approach to growth and making money from the service, compared with the faster expansion rates of Facebook, Twitter Inc., and Snap Inc. when they went public.

“We’re really proud of the progress we made over the last few years,” Chief Executive Officer Ben Silbermann said in an interview. “We built out the business. We felt like we were at a point where the business had reached a level of predictability that it could be in the public markets.”

Pinterest has a key advantage in competing for advertising dollars, Silbermann said. Unlike other sites, Pinterest users typically are looking to eventually buy what they are searching for, which lines up with what advertisers want, he said.

Losses shrinking

Pinterest said in its IPO filing that it reaches more than 250 million monthly active users. The company had about $756 million in revenue from online advertisements in 2018, a 60 percent growth rate that accelerated from the previous year. Its net loss shrunk to $63 million in 2018 from $130 million in 2017.

Most of its user growth is coming from international markets, where the average revenue per user is much lower than in the U.S. In 2018, more than 80 percent of new users were from outside the U.S., however, they generated about 25 cents per person compared with $9.04 for those based in the U.S.

Silbermann said the company is just in the “first chapter” of its international growth and now has local sales teams in countries such as Canada, Germany and France.

Long-term focus

“We’re going to continue to invest for the long term,” he said. “We’ve shown really good margin improvement over the last few years. My eye is always on what’s going to make Pinterest great three years, five years, 10 years from now. That’s going to be how we continue to run the business.”

Pinterest has done a great job of creating an ad business for the visual world, rather than a search that relies on keywords, said Eric Kim, a managing partner at Goodwater Capital.

“The question is whether Pinterest will be one of the primary digital advertising players — not just taking away market share from print but expanding the pie through their visual search,” Kim said.

Pinterest wasn’t as aggressive on its IPO pricing as it might have been, Kim said

“I think they set it at a level that would give current investors upside in the future to get them excited about that,” he said. “It really comes down to that pricing call that Pinterest and their team decides where they want to start out at and track the right investors.”