Deals

Groupon’s best deal yet: stock jumps 40% to $28 in IPO

Groupon shares soared in early trading this morning to $28, a 40 percent increase over its $20 price announced last night, as the company made its initial public offering.

The $28 opening price puts Groupon’s market value at $17.8 billion.

At it’s opening price, the company was valued at about $12.7 billion, which was less than the company’s original expectations that it would be valued between $15 billion and $20 billion at the opening price. While the stock has since traded upward, of course, that gain is enjoyed by outside shareholders — not by the company.

The Chicago-based daily-deals site, which is the category leader in group buying, listed its shares on the NASDAQ Exchange under the ticket symbol GRPN.

The company was expected to raise approximately $700 million dollars from the sale of 35 million shares. The opening price of Groupon shares was $20, announced yesterday after markets closed. The company is selling just 4.7 percent of its shares today, one of the lowest share percentages of the decade.

In Groupon some see echoes of the late-90′s dot-com boom, where young Internet companies with little or no revenue rushed through to the IPO process, only to go bust in the months that followed. While listing themselves as publicly traded companies minted a new generation of millionaires, the practice left bamboozled investors holding the bag.

Groupon has faced intense scrutiny over its accounting practices, which many believe distort the company’s profitability. Groupon had to revise its first S-1 filing from June. Questions arose about why the company was measuring its revenue with a term called ACSOI, or adjusted consolidated segment operating income. This uncommon unit of measurement ignored “certain non-cash expenses and discretionary online marketing expenses that are incurred primarily to acquire new subscribers,” according to the filing, and took advertising costs off the book. During the first six months of 2011 the company spent $432 million on marketing and customer acquisition.

Sales have slowed for Groupon’s core local deals product, and attempts to innovate its model have largely failed. The Groupon Now! app, which serves location-based deals, earned the company just $2.6 million in gross sales in its first six months.

In January Groupon raised $95o million in private capital after turning down a $6 billion acquisition offer from Google the previous month.

While Groupon’s investors are among the most prominent names in venture capital and private equity including Goldman Sachs, Yuri Milner, and Greylock Partners, unusual financial practices abound.

Groupon co-founder Eric Lefkofsky and his family have already cashed out more than $382 million from the company before the IPO, leading many to wonder whether he believes in the long-term health of the company. By contrast, Groupon co-founder and chief executive officer Andrew Mason has received $10 million in founder liquidity, prior to the IPO.

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