Nationally and regionally, 2004 was the best year for IPOs since the tech wreck turned the phrase "initial public offering" from lucrative craze to bitter joke. Nine Northwest companies successfully...

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Nationally and regionally, 2004 was the best year for IPOs since the tech wreck turned the phrase “initial public offering” from lucrative craze to bitter joke.

Nine Northwest companies successfully sold shares for the first time last year, more than in the three previous years put together. Not only that, but seven finished 2004 ahead of their offering price.

By far the region’s most successful offering was Seattle-based Marchex: The online-advertising company finished the year up 223 percent since its March 31 debut. Other big winners were Portland-based restaurant chain McCormick & Schmick’s, up 40.4 percent since its July IPO; and Blue Nile, the Seattle-based online jeweler, up 33.9 percent since its May offering.

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Xcyte Therapies, a Seattle-based biotech that had trouble getting its offering out the door, brought up the rear of 2004’s IPO class. Since going public March 16, Xcyte’s stock has lost nearly two-thirds of its value.

Overall, the number of IPOs soared to 216 last year, compared with 68 last year and 70 in 2002, according to Greenwich, Conn.-based Renaissance Capital. A total of $43 billion was raised, the firm said in its annual IPO review, up from $15 billion in 2003.

Real-estate investment trusts (REITs) were the hottest sector for new stock issues, accounting for 29 of last year’s IPOs, an analysis of Bloomberg News data by The Seattle Times shows. REITs — which pay out most of their profits as dividends and tend to perform better in periods of low interest rates — have been very strong performers lately: The Standard & Poor’s REIT index has risen 59.5 percent in the past two years.

“They [investment bankers] bring them to market when they can get the best price for them,” commented Art Nunes, chief market strategist at IMS Capital in Bellevue.

The next biggest IPO sectors, according to The Times analysis, were commercial services, something of a catchall category (22), pharmaceuticals and medical products (18 each) and Internet companies (15).

Two Northwest companies, Federal Way-based Financial Pacific and Portland-based KinderCare Learning Centers, pulled their planned offerings last year in favor of being bought by other companies. Three other regional companies, including Seattle-based American Seafoods, cited “adverse market conditions” in pulling the plug on their IPOs.

Two Seattle-based companies, SeaBright Insurance Holdings and Corus Pharma, are on deck for 2005.

SeaBright hopes to raise about $75 million later this month. Corus’ offer has hit an obstacle. The biotech, which had hoped to raise as much as $100 million before the end of 2004, has been sued by Emeryville, Calif.-based Chiron for alleged intellectual-property violations.

Drew DeSilver: 206-464-3145 or ddesilver@seattletimes.com