You can count me in the category that believes that SolarCity pricing at $8 rather than the $13 to $15 the company wanted was a major blessing. A blessing for all of cleantech.
If the company can narrow operating losses as revenue grows, two big ifs, we’ll be sitting here in 12 months and it’s valuation should be higher than it is today. That hasn’t been true of many IPOs in cleantech (Enphase) or many IPOs at all (Groupon, Zynga, Facebook).
In investing circles, it’s called a margin of safety, which I most associate with the book of the same name from less known but highly regarded investor Seth Klarman. Klarman is secretive, quietly managing around $25 billion for his investors at the Baupost Group, and early in his career in 1991 he wrote a book called Margin of Safety, Risk Averse Investing Strategies for the Thoughtful Investor. The book has become legendary because Klarman has refused to reprint it and low supply of the book has resulted in it costing about a grand used. And being stolen from a lot of libraries (libraries are getting wise to the problem and when I went to the Los Angeles Public Library, I had to show my ID and was allowed to read it there but not allowed to check it out).
I mention Klarman because part of the problem with IPO investing is that there is no margin of safety for investors. The valuations are inflated, generated from a multiple of sales because companies aren’t profitable or in the case of biofuels companies like Kior, a speculative bet that a technology will work and become market competitive (a year and a half post IPO, Kior still has no revenue).
I’m betting that Klarman didn’t buy any SolarCity, more because there’s not much deep value in IPOs, which are on everyone’s radar and which tend to be overvalued rather than repositories of overlooked value (Klarman will do things like buy bonds for companies he believes are undervalued simply because he views the debt as more undervalued than the stock).
But at least at $8 bucks, investors got some value for the risk they are taking. And if we’re sitting here in 12 months, we have a better chance of saying SolarCity is a good company that was had at a fair price. Which would be a godsend for all the cleantech companies trying to raise money as VCs find renewed hope that while they didn’t get the IPO price they wanted, there does exist a viable IPO market for cleantech. And, who knows, if all that happens, we could get back to having cleantech companies go public at inflated prices.