Reddit shares skyrocket 48% above IPO price, valuing company at $9.5B

Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, New York Stock Exchange, Reddit logo
Reddit CEO Steve Huffman, New York Stock Exchange, Reddit logo

Social media platform Reddit’s shares ended their first day of trading in New York up 48%, signaling that investor appetite for initial public offerings of promising yet loss-making companies could be returning.

Reddit, which has not turned an annual profit since launching in 2005, lured investors by positioning its content as training grounds for artificial intelligence (AI) programs. Reuters reported last month that Reddit struck a data licensing deal with Google worth about $60 million a year.

While Reddit still relies on advertising for the vast majority of its revenue, it touted AI in its IPO marketing roadshow as an area of growth. It also disclosed last week that the Federal Trade Commission is looking into its AI data licensing deals.

“At the core we are a growth company. Achieving our mission means that we want to grow users and community,” said Jen Wong, Chief Operations Officer at Reddit.

Reddit mascot Snoo rings the opening bell on Thursday. AFP via Getty Images
Reddit mascot Snoo rings the opening bell on Thursday. AFP via Getty Images

Shares of the San Francisco-based company opened at $47 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday after pricing at $34 in the IPO, the top of the company’s indicated price range. They ended trading at $50.44, giving the company a valuation of about $9.5 billion.

The IPO valued Reddit at $6.4 billion, and the company and its selling shareholders raised $748 million. Reddit was valued at $10 billion in a private fundraising round in 2021, and the strong stock market reception indicated that the company may not have needed to curb its valuation expectations so much to get the IPO off the ground.

Reddit’s long-awaited entry as a publicly traded company has been in the works for more than two years.

It confidentially filed for an IPO in Dec. 2021, but the stock rout due to the Federal Reserve’s quantitative tightening led to a delay.

The eyeball-grabbing debut will be a major test of the IPO market, where investors are seeing some green shoots, thanks to increasing bets of a soft landing.

“If Reddit trades poorly, it will cast a shadow over the IPO market.

Many companies will hit pause on their IPO initiatives,” said Julian Klymochko, CEO of alternative investment solutions firm Accelerate Financial Technologies.

Shares opened at $47 each versus the IPO price of $34 each.

Risky retail allocation

Reddit’s popularity rose to new heights during the “meme-stock” saga of 2021 in which a group of retail investors collaborated on its forum “wallstreetbets” to buy shares of highly shorted companies like GameStop.

As part of its plan to reward its user base, Reddit has reserved 8% of the shares on offer for eligible users and moderators, certain board members, as well as friends and family members of its employees and directors.

It has also offered some shares to retail investors through online brokerage platforms Robinhood, SoFi Morgan Stanley Wealth Management and Fidelity Brokerage Services.

But the move is fraught with risks, analysts have said.

Reddit’s shares opened 38% above the initial public offering price. AFP via Getty Images
Reddit’s shares opened 38% above the initial public offering price. AFP via Getty Images

Typically shut out of bidding in an IPO, retail traders eager to gain exposure to a newly listed company buy shares only when they start trading, which could lead to a first-day pop.

Allowing early access to the IPO could dampen some demand.

Such buyers are also not under a lock-up period and could choose to sell when the stock starts trading, potentially increasing the price volatility.

“I don’t know one company which really benefits from allocating shares to their users,” said Alan Vaksman, founding partner at investment firm Launchbay Capital.

Stocktwits.com, the social media firm that analyzes posts and message volumes on its platform related to a company’s ticker symbol, showed retail sentiment for Reddit was “extremely bullish.”

Reddit was launched in 2005. Above, CEO Steve Huffman. REUTERS
Reddit was launched in 2005. Above, CEO Steve Huffman. REUTERS

But the discussion on Reddit’s “wallstreetbets” forum was more mixed, with some users saying they would short the stock after it starts trading.

Cultural phenomenon

After its launch in 2005, Reddit became one of the cornerstones of social media culture.

Its iconic logo — featuring an alien with an orange background — is one of the most recognized symbols on the internet.

Its 100,000 online forums, dubbed “subreddits,” allow conversations on topics ranging from “the sublime to the ridiculous, the trivial to the existential, the comic to the serious,” according to co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman.

Huffman (center) stands on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with employees. Getty Images
Huffman (center) stands on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange with employees. Getty Images

Huffman himself turned to one of the subreddits for help to quit drinking, he wrote in his letter.

Former President Barack Obama also did an “AMA” (“ask me anything”), internet lingo for an interview, with the site’s users in 2012.

The frenzy for technology stocks might help Reddit get a good start, said Josh White, assistant professor of finance at Vanderbilt University.

“We don’t get many large tech IPOs. Those tend to be very popular because it’s hard to buy that kind of growth,” White said.

“If Reddit trades poorly, it will cast a shadow over the IPO market,” one analyst said. AP
“If Reddit trades poorly, it will cast a shadow over the IPO market,” one analyst said. AP

But despite its cult-like status in the social media world, the company has failed to replicate the success of its bigger rivals Meta Platforms’ Facebook and Elon Musk’s X.

The company has said it was “in the early stages of monetizing (its) business” and is yet to turn an annual profit.

Analysts said investors will be scrutinizing its roadmap to profitability.

“The real news is going to be after the first earnings call — where are they headed, what are the results looking like, what changes are they going to make,” said Reena Aggarwal, director of the Georgetown University Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy.