An initial public offering (IPO) is a common occurrence. Private companies hold an IPO or go public by transferring portions of their ownership to purchasing parties by issuing equity or debt holdings to investors. However, the reverse scenario may also occur, where a public company transitions its public ownership to private interests.

In a public-to-private market transaction, a group of investors purchases the majority of a public company’s outstanding stock shares. This transaction effectively takes the company private by de-listing it from a public stock exchange. While companies may be privatized for a multitude of reasons, this event most often occurs when a company is substantially undervalued in the public market.

Key Takeaways

  • With a public-to-private deal, investors buy out most of a company's outstanding shares, moving it from a public company to a private one.
  • The company has gone private as the buyout from the group of investors results in the company being de-listed from a public exchange.
  • Going from public-to-private is less common than the opposite, in which a company goes public, typically through an initial public offering (IPO).
  • The process of going private is easier and includes fewer steps and less regulatory hurdles than the process of going public.
  • Typically, a company seen as undervalued in the market will opt to go private, although there can be other reasons such an action is taken.

Privatization

Taking a public company private is a relatively simple maneuver that typically involves fewer regulatory hurdles than private-to-public transitions. For example, a private group may offer to buy a company stipulating the price they are willing to pay for the company's shares. If a majority of the voting shareholders accept the offer, the bidder then pays the consenting shareholders the purchase price for every share they own.

For example, if a shareholder owns 100 shares and the buyer offers $26 per share, the shareholder nets a profit of $2,600 for relinquishing their position. This situation is typically favorable for shareholders because private bidders customarily offer a premium on the current market values of the shares.

Many well-known companies have de-listed from a major stock exchange at various points in their existence including Dell Inc., Panera Bread, Hilton Worldwide Holdings Inc., H.J. Heinz, and Burger King. Some companies de-list to go private, then return to the market as public companies with another IPO.

Privatization can be a nice boon to current public shareholders, as the investors taking the firm private will typically offer a premium on the share price, relative to the market value.

Interest in Privatization

In some cases, the leadership of a public company will proactively attempt to take a company private. TESLA is an example. On August 7, 2018, Tesla (TSLA) founder and CEO Elon Musk tweeted that he was considering taking the company private at $420 per share—a substantial boost from the stock’s then trading price. After his announcement, shares spiked more than 10 percent, and trading was halted following the ensuing news frenzy. In a letter to employees, Musk justified his intentions, with the following message:

"As a public company, we are subject to wild swings in our stock price that can be a major distraction for everyone working at Tesla, all of whom are shareholders. Being public also subjects us to the quarterly earnings cycle that puts enormous pressure on Tesla to make decisions that may be right for a given quarter, but not necessarily right for the long-term."

The Bottom Line

While large public companies going private does not occur nearly as often as private companies going public, examples exist throughout market history. In 2005, Toys "R" Us famously went private when a purchasing group paid $26.75 per share to the company's shareholders. This price was more than double the stock's $12.02 closing price on the New York Stock Exchange in January 2004. This example shows that shareholders are often well-compensated when they relinquish their shares to private concerns.