Rocket Companies IPO jumps 19.5%; company promises Detroit neighborhood investments

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Shares of Rocket Companies Inc., the parent of billionaire Dan Gilbert's mortgage lending giant, closed up more than 19% on their first day of trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. 

An unspecified amount of the $1.8 billion the company is set to earn from its initial public offering will support initiatives in its hometown, such as increasing internet access in Detroit neighborhoods, CEO Jay Farner told The Detroit News.

Rocket Companies' Dan Gilbert and Jay Farner rang the opening bell earlier this year on the New York Stock Exchange in celebration of its IPO.

The first public shares of Rocket, which includes Quicken Loans, ended trading up 19.5% to $21.51 on the exchange under the RKT symbol — a milestone for the Detroit company that was an early harbinger of the city's revitalization and recruiter for young tech talent. The firm is slated to become the seventh-largest IPO of 2020, according to Dealogic, with 100 million shares available at $18 each.

A Rocket Companies sign is displayed on the exterior of the New York Stock Exchange, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in New York. Shares of Rocket Companies, parent of Quicken Loans, began trading Thursday during the Detroit company's IPO at the NYSE.

The price was lower than the original $20 to $22 range the company had suggested last week for the IPO. Despite the decrease, shares did reach a high of $22.70 around 2 p.m. and were in line with last year's 18% average first-day price rise.

"The purpose of this was not to raise capital," Farner said in an interview. "Whether it was $3.3 billion or $2 billion, the goal was to take the company public, which is an important step and gives us more flexibility into the future."

The stock's performance was a "Goldilocks stock-price bump," said Erik Gordon, a faculty member at the University of Michigan's Ross Business School.

It was "high enough to make money for investors who bought stock at the opening price and not so high as to make you think the company sold the stock for too little," he said.

The smaller IPO, Farner said, is expected to bring about a long-term investor base thinking three to five years in the future. Although Rocket is in the mortgage business, it is seeking to pitch itself as a tech disruptor in the industry by allowing homebuyers to apply for loans completely online.

Rocket Companies Inc.'s Chief Financial Officer Julie Booth, CEO Jay Farner, chairman Dan Gilbert and Bob Walters, president and chief operating officer, ring the opening bell on Thursday at the New York Stock Exchange.

The company represents about 9% of the highly fragmented mortgage industry, Farner said, but it hopes to grow it to 25% over the next decade. Rocket Companies closed $145 billion in loans in 2019 and recorded $893.4 million in profit on revenue of more than $5.1 billion.

Although COVID-19 had put a pause on IPO plans in the spring, low interest rates have spurred a frenzy of refinancing and homebuyer activity that contributed to record months in March, April and May, Farner said. Coupled with an upward trending market since March, the company decided now was the time to go public.

"I think the market is really recognizing or confirming that we have some pretty special technology that we can grow and scale and do so profitably," he said.

Going public should help Rocket reach its goal, Farner said, providing opportunities for greater name recognition and funds to improve its market share. It also provides for an employee stock option — something Gilbert has wanted to provide to the company's more than 20,000 employees, most of whom work downtown and many of whom are highly sought tech talent.

"It was challenging to do that in our previous structure," Farner said. "You see that a lot in Palo Alto, California. Here in Detroit, I think, it's less common. We're proud that we can offer our employees the opportunity to be owners of the business."

Jay Farner

The funds will support the company's greater efforts in Detroit, as well, Farner said. A company spokesman declined to disclose how much of the offering would support those initiatives.

"We're selling only about 5% of the organization," Farner said. "We wanted to take that and be able to use it for some of the initiatives here in the city of Detroit, not just today, but though for example the Gilbert Family Foundation to provide even more capital to continue to help our city down the road."

The Gilbert Family Foundation has contributed to COVID-19 relief efforts in Detroit as well as supported efforts in education and blight removal. IPO funds also will support efforts around the Connect 313 Fund, an initiative to increase internet access in the city.

"Technology empowers us to get a loan, to buy a home or find a home, get a mortgage; it increases education," Farner said. "It's crazy 30% of people here don't really have that. We are working with others to solve that problem."

Quicken Loans founder and chairman Dan Gilbert

Gilbert will maintain a majority controlling stake in the company with 79% of shares under a multi-tiered system. He will have final say over major decisions such as the election of board directors, proposed mergers, or sale of the company's assets. Gilbert's net worth totals $7.5 billion, according to Forbes.

Gilbert founded the company in 1985. In 2010, he moved its headquarters from Livonia to downtown Detroit. He joined Farner and other executives in New York to ring the opening bell in New York. They wore face masks amid the pandemic.

“Rocket has spent the last 35 years becoming America’s largest mortgage lender by taking the road less traveled,” Gilbert said in a statement. “I have full confidence in Jay and the rest of the senior leaders to build on the blueprint that got the company to where it is today and find innovative ways to reach new clients in the future.”

Twitter: @BreanaCNoble