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No sign of tech bubble in moribund IPO market

Aaron Pressman
Shopify CEO on IPO and ecommerce

While venture capitalists argue over the frothiness of private tech company valuations, one thing is increasingly certain: There's no sign of a bubble among publicly-traded tech companies.

The latest evidence comes from data on initial public offerings compiled by Renaissance Capital, the manager of the IPO exchange-traded fund (IPO) as well as the longtime analysts following that market.

And according to Renaissance, only 15 companies in the tech sector have gone public so far this year with just six more in the wings, a pace that would place 2015 as the least active since 2009. Of the 15 companies that have gone public so far -- a group that includes Etsy (ETSY) and Shopify (SHOP) -- the average total return is negative 4%.

Both figures are a far cry from the depths of the 1998-2000 Internet-driven tech bubble. In 2000, 194 tech companies went public and gained an average of 71% in their first month of trading (which was quite a slowdown from the average one-month gain of 171% in 1999).

Recent market volatility has made tech companies even less likely to go public, Renaissance says. Overall, the IPO market has seen 131 deals raise a total of $22 billion, a nearly one-third drop from last year at this time.

The biggest action in the IPO market for the rest of the year, they predict, will be private leveraged buyouts returning to the public markets. That list will likely include payments processor First Data, upscale department store chain Neiman Marcus and the second-largest U.S. grocery store chain, Albertsons.

A few tech companies have filed or may file soon, but it's a short list. The best known may be Pure Storage, a flash memory storage producer that filed last month for a $300 million deal. With a net loss of $199 million over the past 12 months, the deal will "test investors' appetite for breakneck growth paired with extremely steep losses," Renaissance says in its Fall IPO preview report.

A few other tech companies have reportedly filed confidentially, most notably mobile payments specialist Square.

So while the VCs argue, investors in public tech companies should have a lot less to debate.