Ceres Inc., a company developing seeds for ethanol production, will test the soil of the initial public offering market when it makes its public debut on the Nasdaq on Thursday.
The Thousand Oaks biotech firm hopes to raise up to $132 million when its 5 million shares begin trading under the ticker symbol CERE. It would be the first local company to go public in the new year.
Ceres, which was founded in 1996, has developed a genetically engineered seed that produces the sweet sorghum plant, which can be turned into the biofuel ethanol.
Prospects for investors remain uncertain, said John Fitzgibbon, who tracks the IPO market for the website IPOScoop. Ceres’ product has not yet found commercial success. The company had just completed its first commercial planting of its genetically modified seed in Brazil when it filed to go public last spring. Success depends on whether farmers will want to switch to growing the new plant.
The company has already delayed its IPO once since filing the initial prospectus with the Securities and Exchange Commission in May.
Fitzgibbon also points to Ceres’ history of losses. The company reported a net loss of $7.54 million on revenue of $1.75 million for the quarter ended in November, compared with a loss of $5.91 million on revenue of $1.72 million the same period the previous year.
It has financed its research and development with funding from investors such as Artal Luxembourg in Luxembourg and Warburg Pincus in New York.
Ceres expects its shares to price between $21 and $23. The company plans to use net proceeds for seed production, acquisitions and general corporate expenses, according to its filing. A company spokesman declined to comment, citing the quiet period leading up to an IPO.
The IPO market may appear to be making a comeback with the attention-commanding launch last week of Facebook as a public company. But smaller companies such as Ceres might not be able to capture the same enthusiasm.
Last month, the IPO market had its second best monthly performance since April 2009, according to the FTSE Renaissance U.S. IPO Index.
But Fitzgibbon noted that some companies have done well while others have had to delay their launch in the face of uncertainty. For example, Houston oil company Dynamic Offshore Resources and Boston cancer treatment company Merrimack Pharmaceuticals postponed IPOs that were scheduled for last week.
“What’s quickly emerging this year is a division between haves and have-nots,” he said. “Even though we have a great stock market rolling along, it brings a little sobriety to the IPO market.”
On the plus side for Ceres, Fitzgibbon said, big-name financial firms are underwriting the IPO, including Goldman Sachs & Co., Piper Jaffray, Raymond James, Barclays Capital and Simmons & Co. International.
“Those are all great companies, not some small, little broker dealers,” he said. “If they put their name on the coverage, it’s a real company.”
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