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I've noticed when a stock goes public (IPO) there is a stock offering price. The opening price on the first day of trading is sometimes higher/lower than the offering price. How can this be?

Am I misunderstanding what an offering price is?

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The offering price is the price at which that IPO is, well, offered. Think of it as a suggested retail price.

The opening price is the actual price at which trading begins, on a particular day, for a stock. That price depends on demand/overnight-orders/what-have-you. Think of this as the actual price in the store.

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    Unlike MRSP, however, offering price also reflects the price you actually could have bought the shares at, if you got in on the initial subscription. This is the amount of money the company sells its shares for, whereas the stock market "opening price" is the price that 3rd party individuals (other investors) are selling shares for. For a retail comparison, I think this is more like concert tickets - the venue might offer them for $100, even though a scalper outside the door offers them for either $150 (if the venue is sold out) or $80 (if the venue had many empty seats). – Grade 'Eh' Bacon Aug 8 '16 at 13:07
  • @Grade'Eh'Bacon Your ticket scalper analogy is better, but it's also more complicated. Complexity is precisely what I'm trying to avoid. We can pick apart any analogy, because they are always limited. I'm not focusing on the analogy. I'm going for the simplest, valid explanation of that difference in prices. – George Marian Aug 9 '16 at 16:23
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The offering price is what the company will raise by selling the shares at that price. However, this isn't usually what the general public sees as often there will be shows to drive up demand so that there will be buyers for the stock. That demand is what you see on the first day when the general public can start buying the stock. If one is an employee, relative or friend of someone that is offered, "Friends and Family" shares they may be able to buy at the offering price.

Pricing of IPO from Wikipedia states around the idea of pricing:

A company planning an IPO typically appoints a lead manager, known as a bookrunner, to help it arrive at an appropriate price at which the shares should be issued. There are two primary ways in which the price of an IPO can be determined. Either the company, with the help of its lead managers, fixes a price ("fixed price method"), or the price can be determined through analysis of confidential investor demand data compiled by the bookrunner ("book building").

Historically, some IPOs both globally and in the United States have been underpriced. The effect of "initial underpricing" an IPO is to generate additional interest in the stock when it first becomes publicly traded. Flipping, or quickly selling shares for a profit, can lead to significant gains for investors who have been allocated shares of the IPO at the offering price. However, underpricing an IPO results in lost potential capital for the issuer. One extreme example is theglobe.com IPO which helped fuel the IPO "mania" of the late 90's internet era. Underwritten by Bear Stearns on November 13, 1998, the IPO was priced at $9 per share. The share price quickly increased 1000% after the opening of trading, to a high of $97. Selling pressure from institutional flipping eventually drove the stock back down, and it closed the day at $63. Although the company did raise about $30 million from the offering it is estimated that with the level of demand for the offering and the volume of trading that took place the company might have left upwards of $200 million on the table.

The danger of overpricing is also an important consideration. If a stock is offered to the public at a higher price than the market will pay, the underwriters may have trouble meeting their commitments to sell shares. Even if they sell all of the issued shares, the stock may fall in value on the first day of trading. If so, the stock may lose its marketability and hence even more of its value. This could result in losses for investors, many of whom being the most favored clients of the underwriters. Perhaps the best known example of this is the Facebook IPO in 2012.

Underwriters, therefore, take many factors into consideration when pricing an IPO, and attempt to reach an offering price that is low enough to stimulate interest in the stock, but high enough to raise an adequate amount of capital for the company. The process of determining an optimal price usually involves the underwriters ("syndicate") arranging share purchase commitments from leading institutional investors.

Some researchers (e.g. Geoffrey C., and C. Swift, 2009) believe that the underpricing of IPOs is less a deliberate act on the part of issuers and/or underwriters, than the result of an over-reaction on the part of investors (Friesen & Swift, 2009). One potential method for determining underpricing is through the use of IPO Underpricing Algorithms.

This may be useful for seeing the difference in that "theglobe.com" example where the offering price is $9/share yet the stock traded much higher than that initially.

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The opening price is derived from new information received. It reflects the current state of the market.

Opening Price Deviation (from Investopedia):

Investor expectation can be changed by corporate announcements or other events that make the news. Corporations typically make news-worthy announcements that may have an effect on the stock price after the market closes. Large-scale natural disasters or man-made disasters such as wars or terrorist attacks that take place in the afterhours may have similar effects on stock prices. When this happens, some investors may attempt to either buy or sell securities during the afterhours.

Not all orders are executed during after-hours trading. The lack of liquidity and the resulting wide spreads make market orders unattractive to traders in after-hours trading. This results in a large amount of limit or stop orders being placed at a price that is different from the prior day’s closing price. Consequently, when the market opens the next day, a substantial disparity in supply and demand causes the open to veer away from the prior day’s close in the direction that corresponds to the effect of the announcement, news or event.

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