London Exchange Awaits Party Poker IPO

Certain events signal the height of fads, manias, and bubbles. Just think back five years ago when the New York Stock Exchange was considering an IPO. Is it any coincidence that the stock market peaked shortly thereafter? Whether it be the record number of technology sector mutual funds that opened in 1999, or Nasdaq traders quitting their day jobs, we can point to many events that, looking back, should have warned us that there was indeed a stock market mania.

While the company has yet to initiate the process, it is widely expected that PartyGaming, owner of the Party Poker online gambling site, could begin trading on the London Stock Exchange as early as this summer. Analysts have already begun to estimate such an IPO could fetch as much as $5 billion in market value, based on the company’s 2004 EBITDA of $350 million. If true, PartyGaming would find itself a member of London’s FTSE 100 index.

First it was the World Poker Tour (WPTE) IPO last year, and now Party Poker. Nobody should really be surprised, but the real question is, what can we deduce from this? Would a Party Poker IPO mark the top of a fad, or the beginning of what will become a cultural mainstay? Will WPTE turn out to be worth $19 per share, 16 times forward sales, and 106 times forward earnings? Highly, highly doubtful.

However, it’s hard, if not impossible, to know for sure and it certainly gets market observers and poker enthusiasts wondering. Can these companies make enough money to justify their equity valuations, and can those cash flows be sustained and grown long term? It should be interesting to see how it all plays out.