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The Pet Care retailer’s Petco shares will rise almost 70% once they return to the general public market

Signage of Petco Health and Wellness Co. outside the Nasdaq MarketSite during the company's initial public offering in New York, the United States, on Thursday, January 14, 2021.

Michael Nagle | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The shares of Petco Health and Wellness Company rose more than 60% on its Nasdaq debut Thursday, reflecting Wall Street's appetite to invest in the industry during the pandemic-sparked pet boom.

Petco opened at $ 26, about 44% above its IPO price, but the shares recently traded at nearly $ 30.

On Wednesday night, the company valued its initial public offering at $ 18 to raise approximately $ 816.5 million, which was above its expected price target of $ 14-17. It trades under the ticker symbol WOOF. Petco is owned by the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board and private equity firm CVC Capital Partners.

The San Diego-based pet supplies retailer was founded in 1965. It went public in 1994 but was privatized when its owner changed hands. It has around 1,470 stores in the US and Puerto Rico, including more than 100 veterinary clinics.

Petco's customer base has grown during the pandemic as more Americans adopt new dogs and cats, or get other animals such as lizards and hamsters. The demand for pet supplies and accessories has also increased over the years as owners treat their pets as part of the family. That inspired them to spend more on toys and accessories and switch to fresh, organic or fresh food.

As families adopt and care for new pets, they buy supplies from dog beds and crates to leashes. Families who had dogs, cats, fish, or other creatures also tended to spend more as they bought toys or treats to keep their pets and themselves entertained.

But it is also exposed to tougher competition. Online rival Chewy's stocks are up more than 250% over the past year. The company has a subscription-based model that automatically replenishes pet supplies for owners such as dog food or cat litter. Barkbox, a provider of subscription boxes for dog food, announced last month that it would go public through a merger with a SPAC.

In an interview with CNBC's Squawk on the Street, CEO Ron Coughlin said the company had a competitive edge over its competitors. He said it is adding veterinary services to more of its stores, which tends to have pet owners buying supplies and groceries while they are there. He said it can use its stores to fulfill online orders. And he said the same day deliveries can beat the competition in terms of speed and price.

Correction: Petco shares are traded on the Nasdaq stock exchange. In an earlier version of this story, the substitution was incorrectly stated.

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