By all accounts, 2015 was a lackluster year for the initial public offering (IPO) market. There were no mega-IPOs like Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) in 2012, Twitter Inc. (NYSE: TWTR) in 2013 or Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (NYSE: BABA) in 2014. Some of the most widely anticipated IPOs, such as Uber Technologies Inc. and Pinterest, were postponed, with no indication of when they might go public. However, despite the lack of high-profile IPOs, the interest in pre-IPO companies has reached a fever pitch, as 2015 was a record year for private funding, with more than $25 billion flowing into late-stage startups. Along with the usual suspects, such as venture capitalists and private equity firms, mutual funds are also putting up large amounts of cash for ground-floor opportunities by betting big on private companies such as Uber, Dropbox Inc. and Pinterest. More than 100 mutual funds have invested in at least one pre-IPO company.
Two mutual fund companies in particular have become very aggressive in their pre-IPO investing. Fidelity Investments holds pre-IPO investments in 40 of its funds, while T. Rowe Price Group has a dozen funds holding pre-IPO positions. The good news for the small investors is that, for a small sum, they can invest in the lucrative IPO market. The bad news for them is that the results for mutual funds investing in pre-IPOs have been mixed at best, but because mutual funds are only allowed to hold up to 15% of their assets in private companies, the impact, both positive and negative, has been minimal on their investment performance. Fidelity and T. Rowe Price both hold less than 2% in any of their funds. Investors should also know that private company valuations are more of a guess, so until the actual IPO is released, it is difficult to tell whether a fund is making or losing money on a particular investment. Nevertheless, that uncertainty isn’t stopping fund companies, such as Fidelity and T.
Rowe Price, from buying sizable stakes in companies that they hope may be the next Google or Facebook. These are some of the top mutual funds investing in pre-IPO companies.
Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX)
The Fidelity Contrafund (“FCNTX”) is one of the most aggressive mutual fund investors in pre-IPO companies, with more than $900 million invested as of April 2015. The Contrafund was among a large group of equity funds that owned Facebook as a pre-IPO investment. It owns large stakes in Uber, Dropbox and Pinterest. The $105.5 billion fund has returned 12.03% annually since 2010 and 13.37% since 2012. Contrafund has an expense ratio of 0.71%, with a minimum investment requirement of $2500.
Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund (FBGRX)
As of September 2015, the Fidelity Blue Chip Growth Fund (“FBGRX”) owns 23 pre-IPO companies, including a large stake in Uber. Although the fund is carrying its pre-IPO investments above cost, thanks in large part to Uber, more than a third were marked down in valuation by Fidelity. Big holdings in Snapchat, Blue Bottle Coffee Company, Zenefits and Dropbox have all been marked down by 25% or more. FBGRX was also a big investor in the Facebook IPO, which has helped the fund's performance. Since 2012, FBGRX has returned 15.55%. The fund runs $18 billion while requiring $2500 to invest in.
T. Rowe Price New Horizons (PRNHX)
The T. Rowe Price New Horizons (“PRNHX”) is a big investor in small, emerging growth companies. Its portfolio leans heavily towards the technology and health care sectors, where most of the big IPOs tend to occur. One of the fund’s positions, Atlassian Corporation Plc (NASDAQ: TEAM), debuted in December at $21 a share. After climbing to a high of $31 per share in January 2016. Other large pre-IPO positions include Eventbrite Company and WeWork Companies Inc. The fund’s earlier investments in Facebook, Twitter and Alibaba boosted it to a 13.43% return since 2012. New Horizons has an expense ratio of 0.79%.