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Vonage How Vonage's High-Profile IPO Stumbled on the Stock Market By SHAWN YOUNG



How Vonage's High-Profile IPO
Stumbled on the Stock Market
By SHAWN YOUNG and RANDALL SMITH
June 3, 2006; Page A1

The initial public offering of Vonage Holdings Corp. is shaping up as a classic case study in how not to go public.

It's not just that the stock, one of the year's high-profile market debuts, has tumbled about 30% since its May 24 launch on the New York Stock Exchange. Some investors - many of whom are longtime Vonage customers - say the fall has been aggravated by missteps by the Internet phone company and the offering's underwriters, which include Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and UBS AG.

Along the way, Vonage may have sent a broader message about the real risks of going public, even in a rising market. "We always hear all the time how IPOs are the best thing to buy into," complains J.P. Baden, a marketing analyst from Madison, Wis. who is a Vonage customer and one of the early investors. "Now, I'm down $500 to $600 without even blinking."

By no means is Vonage's unhappy experience irreversible. Shares were up 35 cents at $11.98 in 4 p.m. composite trading on the New York Stock Exchange yesterday, a 3% increase, though still far off the IPO price of $17 a share. In response to some written questions yesterday, the company said the IPO wasn't mishandled and that it will not be deterred "from executing on our business plan and serving our customers." The company also noted that it remains under a legally mandated quiet period.
[Vonage Stock Chart]

The market debut undoubtedly has been disappointing. Since its founding in 2001 by entrepreneur Jeffrey Citron, the former chief executive of Datek Securities Corp. who was a prominent figure in the 1990s day-trading craze, Vonage had been the toast of private-equity investors, touted as a major threat to established companies such as Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc.

The Holmdel, N.J., company's business plan was seductively simple; it offered customers cut-rate phone service by letting them plug their phones into high-speed Internet connections, bypassing more costly land lines. The product became a hit, luring 1.6 million users.

Before announcing its IPO earlier this year, Vonage said it was "really at a land-grab stage." It seemed a good time to go public: After a cool period earlier this decade, demand for new issues has risen during the three-year bull market that kicked into high gear in the spring of 2003. So far in 2006, IPOs have surged an average of 10% on their first day of trading, in line with gains in 2004 and 2005, said Richard Peterson of Thomson Financial, which tracks financial transactions.

Having billed itself as "the fastest-growing telephone company in the U.S.," Vonage sweetened its plan by inviting customers to buy shares in the $531 million offering through an oversized version of the sort of "directed share" programs that were commonplace during the Internet stock bubble. Some 9,000 of them signed up, buying a total of as much as $72 million of IPO stock in accounts set up by the underwriters.

So what has gone wrong?

To start with, Vonage launched just as the stock market, close to lofty new highs, hit an air pocket amid inflation jitters. Additionally, the deal lacked the imprimatur of some of Wall Street's top IPO underwriters, including Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, which didn't participate.

Another problem has been investor skittishness over a January 2003 settlement between the 35-year-old Mr. Citron and the Securities and Exchange Commission. He settled civil securities fraud charges dating from his time at Datek, where he was accused of misusing an order-entry system, and paid $22.5 million. Mr. Citron neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing, and has consistently declined to comment on the agreement. Yesterday, Vonage said Mr. Citron declined a request for an interview, citing its quiet period.

Some investors now say they think the stock was priced too high as well, especially considering the rapidly changing market in which Vonage competes. Vonage faces competition from cable companies and other phone providers entering the Internet phone market and pushing down prices, while some wireless companies are planning to roll out new phones that roam back and forth between cellular and Internet networks.

REMAINDER AT:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB114922391790669648.html



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New WSJ Article: How Vonage''s High-Profile IPO Stumbled...


I found this to be a good and interesting article. I particularly noticed

manse posted "How Vonage's High-Profile IPO Stumbled on the Stock Market By SHAWN YOUNG" on 06/03/2006

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