So what happened here? Why did the stock go down with so much hype, why are there so many insiders selling, and really what even is a direct listing?
What is a Direct Listing?
With a traditional , a company works with an underwriter (typically a bank or large financial institution) to put together their initial stock offering. This usually involves a road show where the company's representatives will travel around drumming up investment from institutional investors prior to the stock going live. On day, the underwriter facilitates the transfer of these pre-IPO shares to the institutional investors they snagged during the road show prior to the stock going live on secondary markets (where you, the retail investor can buy in). There is also a lockup period in an that limits selling and hedging on the stock for specific holders until a set period of time has passed.
A direct listing is when the shareholders of a company decide to sell shares in the enterprise directly to secondary markets without the help of an underwriter. With a direct listing, none of the road show stuff happens and there's no real lockup period unless that's specifically negotiated internally at the company. The company sets a reference price for the stock and on listing day the stock is just listed straight to secondary markets.
With both a traditional and direct listing, we're usually looking at around 10% of the company's stock being up for sale. With a traditional , the underwriter often buy all the shares being offered directly from the issuer and then be responsible for selling those shares. With a direct listing, shareholders sell their shares to the market directly.
What happened with Coinbase?
What happened with the Coinbase direct listing isn't new or weird. It seems to happen more or less with every direct listing. I went back and got some charts for some of the big direct listings that have happened over the past year or so and it happens to varying degrees more or less every time.
Here's NYSE:RBLX :
Here's NYSE:PLTR :
Here's NYSE:SPOT :
Here's NYSE:WORK :
Out of all of these, Roblox fared the best the fastest after going live but still had the same end of day drop as Coinbase. Slack had the worst performance and didn't bottom out for months.
So it's a pretty common phenomenon that direct listing stocks are probably a bad idea to buy into on the first day they list. The question becomes why.
Market Mechanics and Direct Listings
As I've said, with a direct listing the shares are coming directly from existing internal shareholders of the company. So in a market, there needs to be a willing buyer and a willing seller. In this case, there is an avalanche of selling that happens when the stock goes live and this has the kind of impact you would expect from a roughly 10% selloff of internal shares in a company. It makes the stock go down. Once the stocks are out in the market, it's up to the market to decide what they're worth. That could be more or less than the reference price set before going live. However, this selling has to happen by the very nature of what a direct listing is and this (among other technical factors) is a giant part of the reason why direct listings often end up red on the days they go live on the market.
So when you see stuff in the news about insiders selling some insane number of shares on the day the company does a direct listing, take it with a grain of salt. Chances are substantial that it's really just the normal kind of selling that is necessitated by this type of stock listing. I'm not saying that you should trust the CEO of Coinbase blindly and assume he'd never do wrong. But even in a world where this wasn't how direct listings work, the amount of heat it would bring down on him to just liquidate his entire ownership stake in a company he just brought public in some kind of "offloading the bags" scheme would be extreme. The incentives aren't there.
Based on averages alone, even if you knew nothing about the market mechanics of direct listings, it doesn't appear to be a smart move to buy into a directly listed stock on the day it starts trading. There is too much downward selling pressure involved and all the price discovery starts on opening day so is expected.
If you're interested in following along with the other stuff I do outside of TradingView, definitely make sure to follow my Substack and my Twitter (details in my signature space at the bottom of this idea).
As with everything I write, remember that this is just my observations and that you should not assume that everything is perfect or works the same way every time. Trading is a risky thing to do and no matter what you're always taking risks when you trade, so keep that in mind.