There has been no shortage of debutantes on Wall Street lately. Dozens of companies went public last quarter — many of them names you know, or that you will know soon. These some of the more intriguing initial public offerings to come out of this past quarter.
El Pollo Loco (LOCO)
Fast casual has been the place to be for investing in the restaurant industry, and that helped pave the way for this California-based chain specializing in citrus-marinated chicken to go public in July at $15 a share. Investors won’t be impressed by its slow yet calculated expansion. It had grown from 398 locations to just 401 in the year leading up to its IPO.
However, El Pollo Loco’s store-level performance has been impressive. It posted a 5.4 percent increase in comparable-restaurant sales in its first quarter as a public company. That is certainly better than the average fast-food or casual-dining chain out there, once again validating the fast-casual model, where chains offer the convenience of fast food but the quality of traditional casual-dining restaurants.
The push to develop self-driving cars is really getting traction, a fact that became even more apparent last week when Tesla (TSLA) showed off an updated sedan that uses a dozen sensors to do everything from adjusting speed in accordance with speed limit signs when it’s on cruise control to switching lanes automatically when the sensors see an opening in traffic after the driver triggers the turn signal.
But clever sensors notwithstanding, self-driving cars won’t happen without serious software, and that’s where Mobileye comes in. The Israeli company provides software and chips for camera-based advanced driver assistance systems. This will likely become a competitive market in the future, but for now Mobileye is seen as a leading pioneer in self-driving vehicles. Its share price has roughly doubled since it went public at $25 just two months ago.
ReWalk Robotics (RWLK)
One of the more ambitious goals in robotics is getting people who can’t walk moving again. ReWalk is one of a couple of companies with a robotic exoskeleton on the market for folks with spinal cord injuries. ReWalk’s system allows them to stand up and walk through powered hip and knee controls.
The robotic exoskeleton, which starts at $70,000, became available in this country earlier this year. It scored big last month when a major German insurance company agreed to reimburse a patient for a ReWalk device. ReWalk went public at $12 last month, and its stock has more than doubled.
China’s e-commerce behemoth became the world’s largest IPO when it raised $25 billion in last month’s market debut. Alibaba is the rock star in the world’s most populous nation, which recently overtook the U.S. to become the largest online nation, too. The company went public at $68 and has moved nicely higher in its first few weeks on the market.
Smart & Final (SFS)
Smart & Final operates 250 stores that include its namesake supermarkets as well as cash-and-carry food-service stores. Smart & Final positions itself as the “non-club club” by stocking thousands of club-sized items, the kind of bulk-sized fare that one normally finds at BJ’s or Costco (COST). However, customers don’t need to pay an annual membership fee the way you do at a traditional warehouse club. It’s working. Smart & Final has come through with positive comparable-store sales growth in 24 of the past 25 years.
The company went public at $12 a few weeks ago, but this isn’t its first time as a publicly traded entity. Smart & Final traded from 1991 to 2007, until Apollo Management took it private. This time, it had to settle for pricing at the low end of its initial range of $12 to $14, and the stock currently trades within that range.
•Last Week’s Biggest Movers on Wall Street
•Wall Street This Week: Cyber Monday Fades, Retailers Report
•Week’s Winners and Losers: Pandora Jams, Costco Slammed