IPOs are back. Is the market healthier -- or is it just bonus time?

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Initial public offerings are ready to party like it's, um, 2007.

Eight companies are slated to drop brand-spanking-new shares on the market this week, making this the greatest "flurry" of IPO activity investors have seen in about two years. If it seems like a less-than-ideal time to go public, well, it is. Market uncertainty is tamping down valuations, meaning companies can't tap the public for as much fresh capital as they could during more bullish times.

Still, if all goes according to plan, this will be the biggest week for new offerings since December of 2007, when nine IPOs priced in a week. That's hardly a blizzard of activity, but it does underscore how far we've come since the near collapse of the financial system a year ago. Indeed, there were no IPOs in September or October of 2008 and just two deals priced in the six months following Labor Day of last year.
So why this comparative wealth of activity now?

Partly it is just seasonal. The summer months are traditionally quiet for IPOs, seeing as so many folks are on vacation. It doesn't pick up again until a couple weeks after Labor Day, partly because Wall Street is back at work -- and partly because the investment bankers who underwrite such deals need to get paid, says David Menlow, president of IPO Financial Network.

"This is when people get serious about IPOs because it's a mathematics issue with their bonuses," Menlow says. "If you generate more fees through corporate finance activity, then certainly you've got a possibility to make some money regardless of how those deals are going to work out this year."

Of the new deals pricing this week, Shanda is probably getting the most buzz. The Chinese online gaming company is looking to raise as much as $788 million through a listing on Nasdaq, trading under the ticker GAME. Coming in second is A123 Systems. The company, which makes rechargeable batteries used in hybrid and electric cars, is looking to raise $238 million through a Nasdaq listing under the ticker AONE.

None of these deals is expected to get the kind of opening day pop that became so common during the last bull market, Menlow says. "Market uncertainty is the 800-pound gorilla that no one is talking about," he says. "From an issuer perspective, IPOs are coming out at discounted values as if we were a couple thousand points lower on the Dow."

That's bad news for corporate coffers, but good news for prospective buyers. And unless something big and sexy happens, muted reactions -- and cheap shares --- are expected to be the norm.

"We are not going to get the wild opening premiums on these IPOs unless we get some 'Wonderstock' filing, like a Facebook," Menlow says. "Something like that might have a bit of extra sizzle, just because of the name and ubiquity."

The other IPOs scheduled to price this week: Apollo Commercial Real Estate, a real estate investment trust, hopes to raise $460 million under the ticker ARI; Colony Financial, a real estate finance firm, looks to raise $500 million with the ticker CLNY; Vitacost.com, an online seller of nutritional supplements, wants to go public for at least $121 million with the ticker VITC; asset manager Artio Global Investors intends to raise about $700 million under the ticker ART; Foursquare Capital, which focuses on mortgage-backed securities, hopes to raise around $576 million with the ticker FSQR; and Select Medical, which operates outpatient rehabilitation clinics, is trying for about $460 million under the ticker SEM.
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