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Lyft pops in post-IPO debut, but ends trading below day's high

Ride sharing giant Lyft (^LYFT) began trading on Friday, initially surging over 21% amid investor euphoria after pricing at $72 per share, before giving back much of its gains late in the session

Nevertheless, the public offering—in which Lyft raised more than $2 billion — gave the company a valuation of nearly $30 billion in the booming market for car sharing, in what is expected to be a banner year for technology IPOs. It also had bragging rights on rival Uber, beating the latter to to the market in one of the largest and most closely watched initial public offerings of the year.

On Friday the stock— which was expected to begin trading around 10:45 a.m. Eastern but did not trade until close to noon — is floating on the Nasdaq under the ticker “LYFT.” The stock settled above $78, up more than 8% from its pricing but well below the day’s trading high at $88.60.

High demand for the offering pushed up the range of Lyft’s stock pricing, well north of its original targeted range of $62-68. After its offering, Lyft will be worth more than $29 billion on a fully diluted share basis.

“The ridesharing industry has become one of the most transformational growth sectors of the US consumer market over the past five years, with Lyft establishing itself as a clear #2 player behind the worldwide leader Uber,” said analysts at Wedbush Securities on Thursday, who initiated coverage of Lyft with a price target of $80 within a year.

Lyft's valuation and market share
Lyft's valuation and market share

Lyft “continues to attract drivers and riders with its brand associated with corporate responsibility and social values, an impressive formula to go after the $1.2 trillion market spent annually in the US,” Wedbush added.

Even before its IPO, Lyft was considered a Silicon Valley “unicorn” — a private company with a valuation north of $1 billion. The IPO was led by JPMorgan Chase, Jefferies, Stifel, Nicolaus and RBC Capital Markets, among others.

The company is braving a fickle market that’s been battered by uncertainty— and getting a leg up on Uber, which is also scheduled to float its IPO this year.

Not so fast

The two ride sharing services are leading what market observers call a “stampede” of hot closely held companies that are flooding markets with newly liquid shares.

Lyft’s buzz has sparked a frenzy on Wall Street, where at least 4 brokerages have initiated coverage of the stock, even before it began trading. However, some investors are urging investors to heed the bottom line of a lot of these companies, which have yet to turn a profit.

Credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance
Credit: David Foster/Yahoo Finance

In an interview with Yahoo Finance on Thursday, venture capital pioneer Alan Patricof warned investors to “exercise caution” toward upcoming tech IPOs — including those of ride-sharing giants Lyft and Uber.

Criticizing an atmosphere of “irrational exuberance,” Patricof said onlookers “want to have a piece of what they read about or hear about.”

“They're not focusing as much on the metrics ... what the revenues are and the losses are,” Patricof, the managing director of Greycroft Partners, said.

The competitive landscape is being steadily transformed by the industry’s push toward autonomous driving. With Uber and Google’s autonomous car project, Waymo, ramping up the pressure, Wedbush noted that an “arms race” will create a number of uncertainties for Lyft.

In the most pessimistic scenario for the company, “regulations on the ridesharing industry become much more strict and cause take rates to decline sharply, Uber is able to attract more drivers/riders while smaller players Juno and Via take share,” said Wedbush, which rates the stock at “neutral.”