Amid extremely high expectations, shares of LPL Investment Holdings, the parent company of LPL Financial, began trading Thursday on the Nasdaq under the symbol LPLA.
More than 15 million shares representing a minority stake in the firm were offered during the independent broker-dealer’s first IPO, which had been hotly anticipated for at least several years. The share price had been set at roughly $28.50, with a price range of $27-$30, on Nov. 3, but late Wednesday it was set at $30.
At the end of trading on Thursday, LPL rose $2.15, or 7.16%, to close at $32.15 on volume of 8,072,814 shares. The stock traded as high as $33.78 per share. Markets across the U.S. and Europe also performed well, recovering from concerns about Ireand after the country said it would accept aid from the E.U. Other maket movers, such as GM's IPO, pushed the Dow up 1.57%, to 1,1181.23. The Nasdaq closed up 1.55%, to 2,514.40, and the S&P 500 rose 1.54%, to 1,196.69.
Industry experts and advisors say that LPL’s IPO is a positive development for the independent broker-dealer marketplace. However, many are also concerned about what it will mean for LPL advisors and shareholders in the long term.
“This will have a huge impact on the psyche of independent broker-dealers, their executives, their reps and the captive reps [at other broker-dealers] that may be considering independence,” said Chip Roame, head of the consultancy Tiburon Strategic Advisors, via e-mail. “It validates the model and shows it’s not some quiet side of the business.”
Advisors concur. “It brings the independent RIA channel up into the eye of the public and gives it an equal status within the rest of the industry,” said Bob Fragasso, CEO of Fragasso Financial Advisors, which is affiliated with LPL and based in Pittsburgh, in a phone interview.
“It helps guarantee the staying power of LPL and also elevates the level of services and infrastructure,” explained Fragasso, a top-producing advisor who was expected to sell 23,000 shares Thursday.
“This has been a long-awaited offering,” said Tim Murphy of Investors Capital, an independent broker-dealer with 575 advisors that went public in 2001, in a phone interview. “It is going to give credibility to the independent model. The success of this IPO is a vote of confidence to our business.”
Some experts and LPL insiders, though, say that the future is less clear.
“There is a certain level of uncertainty,” said a veteran LPL advisor in the Southeast, who wished to remain anonymous, in a phone interview. “LPL is unique and is a special culture. There is a little bit of concern among advisors. Is that culture going to change? And will they start answering to shareholders?”
In its amended Form S-1 filing, LPL touted the growth of its advisor force from “3,596 advisors in 2000 to 12,017 as of September 30, 2010, representing a CAGR of 13.2%,” though the filing says that past growth “does not guarantee that we will attract advisors at comparable rates in the future.”
Lead underwriters for the offering were Goldman, Sachs; Morgan Stanley; Bank of America/Merrill Lynch and JPMorgan Chase, which could purchase up to an additional 1.56 million shares from LPL Investment Holdings Inc. and a stockholder.
Todd Robinson, Dave Butterfield and Jim Putnam led the firm early on and in 1989, when Linsco merged with Private Ledger. They then handed the baton to Mark Casady (left), now CEO and chairman, and the firm's other leaders several years later.
“Robinson was truly a visionary,” said Mark Elzweig, an executive recruiter in New York, in a phone interview. “He founded LPL as a 32-year-old ex-broker in 1989 by merging Linsco and Private Ledger. It was an amazing innovation to found an independent brokerage firm that showcased its lack of proprietary products and in which advisors were empowered to give conflict-free advice.”
In late 2005, a majority stake of LPL Financial was sold to Hellman & Friedman of San Francisco and Texas Pacific Group of Fort Worth, a signal to many observers that the company's next financial move would be to go public. At the time, LPL Financial's advisor count was 6,800, and the firm was valued at $2.5 billion. In 2007, it acquired three broker-dealers from Pacific Life.
Before the IPO, private equity firms Hellman & Friedman LLC and TPG Group each owned a 36% stake of LPL Financial. Their respective stakes are anticipated to shrink to about 31.5% on Thursday, analysts point out, and the company should have some 107 million shares outstanding.
With its IPO, LPL is under more pressure than ever to keep up its aggressive growth trajectory.
“It will not necessarily be easy,” said John Rooney, the San Diego-based managing director of independent broker-dealer Commonwealth Financial, in a phone interview.
“It’s the law of big numbers. To grow 10% when you’re at 10,000-plus advisors is a real challenge,” he explained. “They’d have to add a broker-dealer like us [with 1,300 advisors]” on a frequent basis. “And look at the industry demographics. We are not seeing the growth of young advisors without a bull market for them to grow on.”
The total number of financial advisors affiliated with the company as of Sept. 30, 2010, was 12,017, down slightly from 12,027 last year and 12,066 in the second quarter of 2010. This puts it behind Morgan Stanley, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, Wells Fargo Advisors and Ameriprise Financial, but ahead of UBS-Americas.
LPL Financial, however, says it added 128 new financial advisors to its ranks in the past 12 months, excluding attrition in the fourth quarter of 2009 related to the consolidation of certain affiliates.