An initial public offering (IPO) is among the most important and significant steps any company can ever take in its lifetime. Not only does it represent a stage of growth, but it also gives investors a chance to own a piece of it. After all, going through the IPO process means taking the company public and trading on a stock exchange.
Some IPOs get more clout than others. The buzz depends on a number of factors, including the company's status (i.e. how well known it is) and how well the IPO does markets the offering, But it's also important for the company to have a unique business model, a track record for success, and a market that's poised for growth.
We've listed the largest global IPOs of all time through the end of 2021. The amount raised by each company listed represents common shares. These companies fit the bill for successful IPOs, ticking off all the boxes and then some. And the list may surprise you.
- Initial public offerings allow companies to raise capital for their businesses.
- Saudi Aramco tops the list of global IPOs, raising $25.6 billion in December 2019.
- Alibaba's IPO was the largest until it got knocked down to the second spot, raising almost $22 billion in 2014.
- Communications services companies SoftBank and NTT also made the list, as well as financial services firms Visa, AIA Group, and ICBC.
- Utilities company Enel, the company behind Facebook, and GM also made the top 10.
1. Saudi Aramco
- IPO Date: Dec. 5, 2019
- Capital Raised: $25.6 billion
- Industry: Energy
This Saudi Arabian company is one of the world's largest companies, ranking in the fifth spot on Forbes Global 2000 list for 2021. Formally called Saudi Arabian Oil Company, it is commonly referred to as Saudi Aramco or simply Aramco. As an energy company, it explores, produces, transports, and sells crude oil and natural gas.
The company went public in December 2019 and began trading on the Saudi Stock Exchange. It initially raised $25.6 billion by selling 3 billion shares. That primary figure was raised to $29.4 billion after the company reportedly sold an additional 450 million shares. It knocked Alibaba out of the top spot, making it the largest IPO in global history.
If you're wondering how you can get a piece of this valuable company, it may take a little maneuvering. Saudi officials decided not to list abroad in order to allow domestic investors to hold control. But you can invest in it indirectly by purchasing shares of an exchange-traded fund (ETF), such as the iShares MSCI Saudi Arabia ETF (KSA), which invests in a number of Saudi stocks.
- IPO Date: Sept. 18, 2014
- Capital Raised: $21.8 billion
- Industry: Technology
Alibaba's (BABA) IPO shattered all records, becoming the largest IPO ever—at least until Saudi Aramco knocked it out of first place. The Alibaba buzz didn't die down after it went public. Four days after its IPO, underwriters exercised an option to sell more shares, bringing the total IPO to $25 billion. But what made it so popular?
The company's chairman announced his intention to expand into other markets outside of China—notably, Europe and the United States. Alibaba is a diversified technology company based in China. Its businesses include:
- AliExpress: A global online e-commerce company, much like Amazon
- Freshippo: A retail chain that integrates online and in-store shopping
- Youku: A long-form video platform available to consumers in China
Although technology companies traditionally list on NASDAQ, Alibaba chose the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) for its debut. The IPO was primarily underwritten by Credit Suisse.
- IPO Date: Dec. 10, 2018
- Capital Raised: $21.3 billion
- Industry: Communication services
SoftBank was founded in 1986 and is headquartered in Tokyo. Contrary to what you may think by its name, it isn't a bank. The company actually provides a range of communication services, including mobile and fixed-line communications, as well as ISP services. SoftBank also sells mobile devices to consumers.
Shares began trading on the Tokyo Stock Exchange after the company completed its initial public offering in December 2018, raising more than $21 billion. SoftBank's stock, though, tumbled about 14.5% on its first trading day.
Private shareholders may hold onto their shares in the public market or sell a portion or all of them for gains.
4. NTT Mobile Communication Network
- IPO Date: Oct. 22, 1998
- Capital Raised: $18.1 billion
- Industry: Communication services
NTT Mobile Communication Network, also known as NTT DoCoMo, is a Tokyo‑based telecommunications player that went to the public market in October 1998. The company announced its plan for an IPO during the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The company managed to secure Goldman Sachs for its underwriting team.
At the time of the offering, NTT had roughly 57% of Japan's mobile market. Its IPO gave it the third-largest market capitalization in Japan at the time. Previously listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), NTT officially delisted their American Depository Shares (ADS) from the exchange in April 2018.
- IPO Date: March 18, 2008
- Capital Raised: $17.4 billion
- Industry: Financial services, technology
Visa (V) specializes in debit and credit card processing. Headquartered in San Francisco, California, the company has more than 70 million merchants that use its services worldwide. The company facilitates more than 206 billion transactions each year.
It may seem strange that the company entered the public market during the global financial crisis. And it's hard to believe that it raised as much as it did—nearly $17.4 billion. Shares were priced at $44 each, meaning the company sold 406 million during the offering.
One of the things that sets Visa apart from other financial services companies (and perhaps why it was able to succeed) is that it doesn't actually lend to consumers, which means it isn't susceptible to default and late payments. It makes its money through payment processing fees.
6. AIA Group
- IPO Date: Oct. 21, 2010
- Capital Raised: $17.8 billion
- Industry: Financial services
AIA is a Hong Kong-based investment and insurance company that now trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange under the ticker 1299. The company's IPO was underwritten by Citi. The company provides a number of financial services, including insurance, to consumers in 18 different countries in Asia.
After raising almost $18 billion, it became the largest independent, publicly listed pan-Asian life insurance group. U.S. investors can also purchase American Depositary Receipts (ADRs) for the company, which trade over-the-counter (OTC) under the ticker AAGIY.
7. Enel SpA
- IPO Date: Nov, 1, 1999
- Capital Raised: $16.4 billion
- Industry: Utilities
Enel (ENIA) may not be a household name in the U.S., but it is well-known in Italy, where it is based. The company also provides power to consumers in 31 countries in Europe and Asia through 2.2 million kilometers of power lines.
The company expected to raise about $19 billion when it went public, but investor interest waned. Still, Enel managed to raise about $16.4 billion, making it one of the largest IPOs of its time.
8. Meta (formerly Facebook)
- IPO Date: May 17, 2012
- Capital Raised: $16 billion
- Industry: Technology
The company behind the popular social media platform (META) was one of the most hyped IPOs in history. It went public on May 17, 2012, and raised just over $16 billion.
This social media technology company's launch was riddled with trading issues and questionable information-sharing accusations. Its stock dropped after the market opened and shares lost roughly 40% in value over the following several months. Investors lost an estimated $50 billion by August 2012. Nasdaq had to pay a fine of $10 million because of trading issues during the IPO. The platform had an average of 1.93 billion active daily users as of Dec. 31, 2021.
9. General Motors
- IPO Date: Nov. 17, 2010
- Capital Raised: $15.8 billion
- Industry: Consumer discretionary
General Motors (GM) debuted in mid-November 2010, raising almost $16 billion and another $4.35 billion in preferred shares. This is a big feat, considering the company emerged from a government-approved bankruptcy filing a year earlier.
This was the largest IPO for any U.S.‑based company. General Motors owns Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac. But the stock hasn't performed very well. On the 10th anniversary of its offering, CNBC reported that the stock's performance was riddled with volatility and uncertainty, even with a solid balance sheet.
- IPO Date: Oct. 20, 2006
- Capital Raised: $14 billion
- Industry: Financial services
ICBC Bank or Industrial and Commercial Bank of China is a multinational financial services company based in Beijing. Founded in 1984, ICBC provides a range of financial products and services to retail and corporate clients in Asia, Europe, North and South America, and Oceania.
It managed to top the list when it began listing on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange (HKG). The deal was underwritten by Merrill Lynch. The company listed its stock simultaneously on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, raising an additional $5 billion in capital.
On Jan. 19, 2007, ICBC exercised an overallotment option that allowed the company to lift its IPO to $21.9 billion, making it the world's third-largest IPO.
Which Company Had the Largest IPO in History?
The world's largest IPO in history was completed by Saudi Aramco. The company went public on the Tadawul (the Saudi Stock Exchange) on Dec. 11, 2019. The company raised $25.6 billion by selling three billion shares. That initial figure increased to $29.4 billion after Aramco sold an additional 450 million shares.
What Were Some of the Largest IPOs in U.S. History?
The largest IPOs in U.S. history include Alibaba ($21.8 billion), Visa ($17.4 billion), Enel ($16.4 billion), Meta ($16 billion), and General Motors ($15.8 billion).
What Were the Biggest Tech IPOs?
Alibaba dominates as the largest tech IPO ever, raising a total of $21.8 billion when it went public in September 2014. Meta's initial public offering of $16 billion also makes it one of the largest tech offerings in history.
What Was the Largest IPO Outside the U.S.?
The title of the largest IPO outside the U.S. goes to Saudi Aramco. The energy company also takes the number one spot as the world's largest IPO, raising $25.6 billion in December 2019.
The Bottom Line
The much-hyped Alibaba IPO was the largest of all time, at least until 2019 when Saudi Aramco knocked it out and claimed that spot. A look back at the top 10 global IPOs in history shows that Asian companies dominate. Visa, Facebook, and General Motors are the only U.S.‑based companies on the top 10 global IPO list.