Direct Listings: An overview of opening day patterns

On 4/14/2021, Coinbase went public with the ticker NASDAQ:COIN . This was a pretty heavily-anticipated listing if for no other reason than that there aren't really any other crypto exchanges you can buy that are traded on a major US exchange. There are some OTC options, but when it comes to a symbol that trades on a US exchange this is a big milestone . Tons of people scrambled to buy into the listing right when it went live and ended up closing out the day reasonably red. Even people who are experienced traders jumped in and ended up closing out for a loss by the end of the day.

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 IPO , 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 IPO 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 IPO 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 IPO and direct listing, we're usually looking at around 10% of the company's stock being up for sale. With a traditional IPO , 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 volatility 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.


We've featured this post in Editors' Picks. As more Direct Listings happen, this should be an interesting read for many.
200 coins
+8 Reply
@TradingView, thanks!
+5 Reply
hamada55A SwingTradeAssassin
@hamada55A, wat
Thanks man! I like your logic. I admit i was trying to pounce on this but I was priced out (like many I'm sure) almost right away. My question is, how long do you think it takes the average direct listing to settle it's price?
+9 Reply
Lovenelly WhyDoWeDoWhatWeDo
@WhyDoWeDoWhatWeDo, thanks bro am proud of you
good post. I learned something new
+4 Reply
Thanks For Valuable Stuff ๐Ÿ˜Œ
+3 Reply
Thanks for the insight, would have been great to know 04/13/2021 :(
+2 Reply
SwingTradeAssassin JohnPalenchar
@JohnPalenchar, haha yeah sorry man I wasn't aware of just how much bad info there was around direct listings until I saw all this FUD coming out around Coinbase. Don't worry though direct listings aren't going away, good to know for next time.
+1 Reply
Home Stock Screener Forex Screener Crypto Screener Economic Calendar About Chart Features Pricing Refer a friend House Rules Help Center Website & Broker Solutions Widgets Charting Solutions Lightweight Charting Library Blog & News Twitter
Profile Profile Settings Account and Billing Referred friends Coins My Support Tickets Help Center Private Messages Chat Sign Out