What Is Book Building?

Book Building Explained

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Book building is a price discovery process used by investment bankers to determine demand for a company’s initial or secondary offering of common stock or other securities.

Companies going public want to sell their shares for the highest prices possible. However, a price that’s too high can potentially deter buyers. That’s why investment bankers hired by companies use book building. Learn more about what book building is and how it works.

Definition and Examples of Book Building

Used by investment banks, book building is the process of price discovery that determines demand for a company’s public offering of common stock or other securities.

When a company is considering going public, it typically hires an investment bank to advise it, and guide the company through the lengthy and costly IPO process. The investment bank, as the lead underwriter, commits to buying all the shares from the issuer at a certain price, assuming the risk of carrying them. Then the bank resells the shares to the market.

Book building provides both the company (issuer) and the investment bank more confidence in the success of the offering.

With book building, the investment bank solicits a range of bids from its client base of institutional and large investors with capital. These preliminary bids give the bankers and the company’s management team a preview of the market’s appetite for the shares.

Affirm, an online financial services company, is one example of a company that used book building as it went public on Jan. 13, 2021. The IPO was underwritten by Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs & Co. LLC and Allen & Company LLC, and had a preliminary offering range of $41 to $44 per share. However, after the roadshows, the final offer was priced at $49 per share. Affirm closed at $97.24 on the opening day of trading on the NASDAQ.

How Book Building Works

Roadshows

Book building begins with the bank holding a series of roadshows that help to promote the offering and create enthusiasm.

Roadshows can include conference calls with multiple investors, in-person meetings, and the publication of materials on the internet about the issuer's business and the offering. There are question-and-answer sessions at each roadshow, giving investors insight into the management strategy and future potential of the business headed for an IPO.

The most important roadshows are face-to-face meetings with the investment bank's network of institutional and large investors. These meetings give investors the opportunity to interact directly with the company’s management.

Indications of Interest

During the roadshows, the investment banker solicits “indications of interest” from prospective investors and clients. Indications of interest are non-binding bids for the offering, including the interest in price and quantity.

The indications of interest are then built by the investment banker into an order book. The order book lists the number of shares and price offered by each potential investor. The investment banker uses the order book to recommend a final offering price to the issuer.

Allocations

Shortly before the new shares trade on an exchange, the investment banker allocates shares at the final offer price to its network of clients and investors. The banker allocates shares based on the indications of interest as well as its relationship with the investor.

The banker’s discretion to allocate shares is an incentive for investors to provide accurate bids, because investors who underbid or overstate their interest may not get allocations.

Types of Book Building

In addition to the typical IPO, there are two specialized forms of book building.

Accelerated Book Building

Accelerated book building offers are used to sell a large block of shares or to raise capital quickly. The underwriting investment bank has to build the order book, set the final price, and allocate the shares within a short period of time, typically 48 hours or less. There are no roadshows.

Reverse Book Building

Reverse book building is used by an issuer to buy back shares. The underwriter solicits bids from existing shareholders and uses the order book to determine a final offering price for the shares.

Alternatives to Book Building

Book building is an integral part of the price discovery process for most initial public offerings. There are, however, other alternatives.

Auction

With an auction, a public bidding process is used to determine the offering price. Instead of roadshows and indications of interest from a select group of investors, all interested investors are given the opportunity to bid on shares prior to the IPO. Google took the auction route with its IPO in 2004.

Direct Listing

With direct listings, shares are offered directly to investors by the issuer on the first day of trading. In a direct listing, the initial share price is determined only by demand and supply of shares in the market. Underwriters are not involved in the sales process of direct listings. The cryptocurrency exchange Coinbase went public using a direct listing in April 2021.

Pros and Cons of Book Building

Pros
  • Pre-market price discovery

  • Customized to issuer

  • Lower risk to underwriter

Cons
  • Cost

  • Potential for underpricing

Pros Explained

  • Premarket price discovery: The roadshow and indications of interest give the issuer and the banker a clear picture of pricing and demand for the shares from professional and experienced investors with large amounts of capital to invest.
  • Customized to issuer: Investment banks specialize in different sectors and industries, offering issuers expertise and credibility to their networks of investors.
  • Lower risk to underwriter: The book building process reduces the risk of under subscription. When the offer is undersubscribed, the bank is responsible for any shares unsold at the offer price.

Cons Explained

  • Cost: The cost of auction and direct listing to the issuer are substantially lower, because shares are sold directly to investors and there are no broker fees.
  • Potential for underpricing: The potential for underpricing is the main disadvantage to the issuer. Underpricing is the difference between the pre-market subscription price of the shares and the price on the opening day of trading. It’s considered “money left on the table” for the issuer. Underpricing is one of the reasons pre-IPO shares are attractive to investors.

Key Takeaways

  • Book building is a method of pre-market price discovery for initial and secondary offerings.
  • Underpricing is the main potential disadvantage of book building to the issuer. It’s also a reason why pre-IPO shares are attractive to investors.
  • Book building, which is customized to each issuer, is the most common method used for public offerings in the U.S.