King Digital Entertainment officially began life as a publicly traded company on Wednesday, but opened below its initial pricing levels on the New York Stock Exchange after weeks of breathless publicity.
On Tuesday, the maker of the addictive mobile game “Candy Crush” priced its shares at $22.50 after the U.S. markets closed. The gaming company, listed as “KING” on the Big Board, issued 22.2 million shares, giving the initial public offering (IPO) an initial value of just under $500 million.
Yet just hours after pricing, investors appeared to lose their taste for the gamemaker, which first rose to prominence as a Facebook application. In heavy trading, King’s stock began at $20.50, but quickly swan-dived by nearly 12 percent as buzz over the hotly awaited IPO began to fade.
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Ricardo Zacconi, King’s co-founder and CEO, put the best face on the stock’s damp debut. He told CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street” the IPO was “the start of a marathon, and I think the opportunity is great.” The growing emphasis on mobile technology gives his company an edge, he said: “I’m very excited.”
Others, however, were far less impressed.
“It’s a Stephen King horror story,” quipped CNBC’s Jim Cramer, referencing the master of the horror genre and some of his most famous books. “It might be ‘Misery,’ it could be even ‘Cujo.’ ”
One of a flood of IPOs that have come to market since the start of 2014, King’s offering was helped by the runaway success of its “Candy Crush” game, which accounted for nearly 80 percent of the company’s revenues in the fourth quarter of 2013. The stock’s fizzled debut puts King on track to be one of 13 deals with a negative, and it may be the fourth worst behind Eagle Pharmaceuticals, uniQure and EP Energy.
The stock’s bloody debut suggested the bloom might be coming off the rose: King competitor Zynga—which makes the “Farmville” digital game—saw its shares tumble four percent in sympathy. Since its IPO in 2011, Zynga’s shares has plunged by more than half.
“Obviously this is the kind of thing where people got scared off,” Cramer added.
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With 97 million players every day, “Candy Crush” was a top three game last year on the iPhone app. In his CNBC interview, Zacconi said the company was looking to be known for more than just the application on which it bases its popularity.
“What we want to achieve is not to find another Candy Crush. That’s not what we are here for,” the CEO said. “What we are here for is to build a portfolio of games. We want to build a network of players, of loyal players, who play our portfolio of games.”
J.P. Morgan Securities, Credit Suisse Securities and Bank of America Merrill Lynch are acting as lead book-running managers.
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—By CNBC’s Javier E. David. Drew Sandholm contributed to this story.