The company with the deepest pockets often wins.
Having more money than your competitors can further your technology advantage, allow you to market more aggressively to get a stronger network effect, or simply to scale up production more quickly.
This is why founders can be found scrambling around Silicon Valley trying to raise capital. But raising capital is not reserved solely for privately held startups.
In fact, many fast-growing public companies are increasingly looking for ways to raise capital cheaply, be it through debt or secondary equity offerings.
Raising capital through secondary equity offerings
One of the more common ways to raise money in today’s market is through a secondary offering. A secondary offering is simply the sale of new shares to investors by an already public-listed company. This is especially appealing for a company when its stock price has increased to a lofty valuation, a likely phenomenon for tech stocks in today’s market.
We need to look no further than one of 2020’s hottest stocks, Tesla Inc (NASDAQ: TSLA). The electric vehicle company took advantage of its rising stock price to raise money no less than three times last year. Tesla first raised US$2 billion in February at a split-adjusted share price of around US$153. It quickly followed that up in September and December, raising another US$5 billion each time as its share price soared.
Despite raising around US$12 billion in capital through secondary offerings in 2020, Tesla’s effective dilution to shareholders was likely less than 5% from all the offerings combined. This is a huge advantage that Tesla has over its competitors.
The leading electric vehicle company now has deeper pockets, giving it the ability to scale production faster and to invest more to improve its battery and software technology.
Tesla is not the only company that has taken advantage of soaring stock prices. Singapore’s e-commerce and gaming company, SEA Ltd (NYSE: SE), and communications API leader, Twilio Inc (NYSE: TWLO), are just two other examples of prominent large companies that have pounced on their soaring share prices to raise relatively inexpensive capital through secondary share offerings.
Another way to raise money is through the debt markets. Rather than diluting shareholders, bond offerings and bank loans are another way to raise capital.
Even though companies incur interest expenses and will eventually need to pay back their creditors, debt does not dilute shareholders. In addition, the current low-interest-rate environment enables companies to issue bonds or take up loans at very competitive rates.
Netflix Inc (NASDAQ: NFLX) is an example of a company using the debt market effectively. In the past few years, Netflix’s operating cash flow was negative, as it was spending heavily on content creation. As such, the company needed more capital. Netflix CEO Reed Hastings and his team decided that rather than dilute shareholders through equity offerings, it would issue high yield bonds to pay for its expenses. The result was that the company managed to get the required capital, whilst not diluting existing shareholders.
Although Netflix’s balance sheet may look weak because of the debt, the streaming giant has a clear path to free cash flow generation and should be able to start paying off some of its debt this year.
Over the longer term, Netflix shareholders could start reaping the returns of management’s careful planning and the fact that they were not diluted from Netflix’s debt offerings.
A mix of both?
So far I have discussed companies that have raised capital through secondary share offerings and debt. Another way for companies to raise capital is through an instrument that could be considered a mix of both – and it may be the best way to raise capital.
Convertible bonds are bonds that can be converted to shares at a certain date or when a certain event occurs. These bonds tend to have very low coupon rates and if converted, are usually done so at a large premium to current share prices.
For instance, leading website creation company, Wix.com Ltd (NASDAQ: WIX) raised US$500 million in August 2020 by issuing convertible bonds that are due in 2025.
Get this. The bonds have a 0% coupon, meaning that Wix does not pay any interest to bondholders. On top of that, these bonds convert to Wix shares at a whopping 45% premium to Wix’s last reported share price prior to the announcement of the sale of the bonds.
As such, if the bonds do get converted to shares, the amount of dilution is lower than if the company simply offered a secondary offering which is usually priced at a discount to current share prices.
Why then would anyone want to buy such an instrument? Personally, I much rather buy equity directly than to own convertible bonds. Nevertheless, convertible bonds do serve a purpose for more risk-averse investors.
First of all, bondholders will get their principle back even if the company’s shares fall below the conversion price. They also have a more senior right to the company’s assets should the company run into financial trouble – this provides additional downside security for investors. The convertible aspect of the bonds also offers bondholders “equity-like” upside if Wix’s share price rises beyond the conversion price. However, bondholders are paying a huge premium for the hedge, which I personally would not want to do for my portfolio.
The ability to raise capital cheaply is a competitive advantage for a company that is often overlooked by investors.
Having deep pockets could give companies a leg up against their competition in a time when scale and technology are increasingly important.
Shareholders may sometimes frown on companies that are issuing new shares or taking on more debt. But if the company uses its newfound financial muscle to good effect, the new capital could be the difference between emerging a winner or ending up as an obsolete wannabe.
Note: An earlier version of this article was published at The Good Investors, a personal blog run by our friends.
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Disclosure: Jeremy Chia owns shares in Tesla, Twilio, Netflix and Wix.com.