The government shutdown may ripple through the IPO market for months

The government isn’t open for business.
The government isn’t open for business.
Image: Reuters/Lucas Jackson
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As the partial US government shutdown drags on, the disruption to the market for initial public offerings (IPOs) is building up. The longest closure in history—with no end in sight—may already ripple through the entire first quarter, according to Nasdaq CEO Adena Friedman.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is operating at bare-bones levels, as the stalemate between congressional Democrats and president Donald Trump over funding of the so-called border wall stretches on. The stock-market watchdog has stopped approving registration statements, driving most companies to delay the public offerings to raise money in the $32 trillion US stock market.

Some companies had already delayed IPOs in the fourth quarter as markets were whipsawed by a spike in price swings, Friedman said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. There were 22% more applications for public offerings at the end of 2018 than there were a year ago, and that IPO pipeline is getting squeezed even more by the shutdown, she said.

The disruption to public offerings shows how a self-inflicted wound is taking its toll on US financial markets, one of the American economy’s greatest resources. Some companies will find that their financial statements have gone stale during the government closure, causing delays of a month or more before they’re able to tap the public market. Squeezing more IPOs into a shorter timeframe is also problematic for companies looking to attract the full attention of investors when marketing their offerings. And the SEC will have catching up to do.

“Recognize that once the SEC reopens, they’re going to have a huge backlog,” Friedman said. “They do really important work to assess these companies.”

Some companies will still find ways to raise money through legal workarounds (paywall) that allow them to avoid the usual signoffs from watchdogs. But the warning from Nasdaq’s CEO shows one of the ways the impasse in Washington is filtering into the financial system—a problem that will only increase the longer the shutdown continues.