Airbnb’s ‘incredible’ IPO lost out on $4 billion

Airbnb’s Wall Street debut was subject to plenty of hype and speculation. Even so, the startup’s first day of trading was nothing short of jaw-dropping.

What happened: Airbnb shares opened on the Nasdaq Thursday at $146 apiece, more than double its $68 IPO price and valuing the company at more than $100 billion. The stock closed at nearly $145, which means Airbnb is now worth more than Marriott, Hilton and Hyatt combined.

Even CEO Brian Chesky couldn’t hide his shock when he heard where the startup’s shares were poised to begin trading. On Bloomberg TV, he noted that investors valued shares at roughly $30 during a round of debt financing in April.

“I don’t know what else to say,” he stammered.

Experts were gobsmacked, too.

“For a mature company to see the valuation increase by [that much] in a matter of nine months is incredible,” Jay Ritter, a University of Florida professor who specializes in IPOs, told me.

The change in fortune is a testament to Airbnb’s ability to quickly turn around its business during the pandemic, cutting costs and focusing more on long-term stays closer to home. It’s also a sign of incredible investor demand for fast-growing tech startups, as low interest rates limit interesting alternatives.

But the spectacular first-day trading pop means the company could have brought in a lot more money to fund its business. Had Airbnb priced shares at $146, it could have raised an additional $4 billion — a huge sum to have left on the table.

That funding could have been on the company’s balance sheet, seeding growth that would push its stock price even higher, Ritter noted.

Who’s mad? The discrepancy may spark some soul searching at Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, whose investment bankers led the offering. It also means that pre-issue stakeholders missed out.

It’s not just an Airbnb phenomenon, though. DoorDash opened at $182 per share earlier this week after having priced at $102 apiece. That means the company left more than $2 billion on the table.

The lesser-known C3.ai, an artificial intelligence software provider that started trading earlier this week, saw its stock close at $130 on Thursday. Shares were initially priced at $42.

Ritter said that companies like Airbnb are difficult to price, but given its dominance in a big market for home rentals, a high valuation is appropriate. He’s less convinced by DoorDash.

“Food delivery is not a high-profit business,” he said.

It’s a frenzy: What’s evident is that demand for tech stocks from both institutional and retail investors is soaring, raising important questions about whether markets are getting too frothy and valuations are due to come back down to Earth.

Many on Wall Street have been hesitant to make this call, predicting tech investments will still generate hefty returns in 2021. But this week’s IPO madness is certainly a good moment to pause for reflection and reassess fundamentals.

The streaming wars are heating up again
Earlier this month, Warner Bros. said that its entire 2021 slate of films will be released on HBO Max and in theaters at the same time.

Now, Disney (DIS) has announced 100 new projects, with most of them heading straight to streaming services.

The latest: In an investor presentation Thursday, Disney made clear that it sees its Disney+ streaming service — which now has 86 million subscribers — as central to its future growth.

CEO Bob Chapek projects that the service will have 230 million to 260 million subscribers by the end of fiscal 2024. That’s a huge jump from its initial projections last year of 60 million to 90 million.

Numbers could get a boost as Disney ramps up exclusive streaming content. The company said that over the next few years, it would unveil roughly 10 new series from the Marvel and Star Wars franchises, as well as 15 Disney live action, Disney Animation and Pixar series.

Prices are also due to increase. Disney said the cost of the service will rise by $1 in the United States in March to $7.99.

Investor insight: Shares are up almost 8% in premarket trading on the news.

Enthusiasm about streaming has helped rescue Disney shares, which were hit hard by the pandemic this year as restrictions tied to Covid-19 forced the closure of theme parks and shuttered movie theaters. They’re now up 7% in 2020.

Competition is poised to remain fierce. CNN parent WarnerMedia is going all in on its HBO Max service, which will feature big movies like “Matrix 4” and “Dune” as soon as they debut next year. Companies like Netflix (NFLX), Apple (AAPL), Amazon (AMZN), Comcast and Discovery are making big investments as well.

But the Disney presentation made its ambitions obvious, according to digital media guru Matthew Ball. “If you’re a competitor, this is earth-shaking,” he told my CNN Business colleague Brian Stelter.

The legal battle to break up Facebook won’t be easy
The groundbreaking antitrust lawsuits filed against Facebook (FB) by state and federal officials this week represent the gravest regulatory threat the social media giant has ever faced. The outcome, however, is far from clear, my CNN Business colleague Brian Fung reports.

State officials and the Federal Trade Commission face a difficult task in court. They must show not only that Facebook enjoys monopoly power, but also that the company has abused that dominance in ways that have demonstrably hurt competition or consumers.

The lawsuits’ key claim is that Facebook harmed competition by identifying potential rivals, then buying them out before they had a chance to threaten its monopoly. The suits argue that Facebook’s alleged market power has resulted in reduced choice for consumers and less innovation in the marketplace.

Any judge hearing the case will likely want to know what would have happened if Facebook never acquired Instagram or WhatsApp, legal experts say. But mapping out a future that never occurred will be no easy task.

“You have to create an alternative world in which Instagram was not acquired by Facebook and that Instagram grew and prospered,” said William Kovacic, a former chairman of the Federal Trade Commission. “Facebook is going to say, one, ‘How do we know that’s what would’ve happened?’ and two, ‘Let’s focus on what has happened because we bought them.'”

Facebook is already laying the groundwork for this defense. In a statement Wednesday, it called the lawsuits “revisionist history.”