By GRAHAM BOWLEY
Reva Medical, a maker of medical devices in San Diego, wanted to go public last year to raise money to satisfy impatient venture capitalists and finance research for its heart stents.
But it found little investor interest in the United States for an early-stage medical device company that had not yet made a profit.
Reva Medical did what a small but increasing number of young American companies are doing — it looked abroad for money, in Reva’s case the Australian stock exchange.
After an eight-month road show, meeting investors and pitching the prospects of a biodegradable stent, the 12-year-old company sold 25 percent of its stock for $85 million in an initial public offering in December.
“There are so many companies that require capital like our company, and they don’t have access to the capital markets in the United States,” said Robert Stockman, Reva’s chief executive. “People are looking at any option to stay alive, which is what we did.”
Reva’s example shows that nearly three years since the financial crisis began, markets in the United States are barely open to many companies, leading them to turn to investors abroad. Denied a chance to list their stock and go public here, they are finding ready buyers of their shares on foreign markets.
Nearly one in 10 American companies that went public last year did so outside the United States. Besides Australia, they turned to stock markets in Britain, Taiwan, South Korea and Canada, according to data from the consulting firm Grant Thornton and Dealogic.
The 10 companies that went public abroad in 2010 — and 75 from 2000 to 2009 — compares with only two United States companies choosing foreign exchanges from 1991 to 1999.
The trend reflects a decidedly global outlook toward stocks, just as the number of public companies in the United States is shrinking.
From a peak of more than 8,800 American companies at the end of 1997, that number fell to about 5,100 by the end of 2009, a 40 percent decline, according to the World Federation of Exchanges.
The drop comes as some companies have merged, or gone out of business, or been taken private by private equity firms. Other young businesses have chosen to sell themselves to bigger companies rather than go public.
To be sure, as the economy improves and investors shaken badly by the financial crisis begin to regain their confidence, American stock markets may once again open up for companies trying to go public and listings may rise in the United States.
LinkedIn, the social networking site for business professionals, had a successful initial public offering last month on the New York Stock Exchange, and Groupon, the social buying site, has registered its plans to go public in the United States.
But these are big companies, enjoying the popularity of being Internet darlings. Executives and analysts fear that a long-term structural shift in American equity markets means these markets are now closed to legions of smaller, more ordinary businesses. They could more easily have gone public in the United States in the past. But they now remain private or, for the time being, have to market themselves overseas and rely on foreign investors.
For example, initial public offerings by American companies totaled only 119 in the United States last year, according to Dealogic — higher than the depressed rates of the previous two years but a far cry from the 756 companies that went public at the peak in 1996.
As young, fast-growing companies are forced to look overseas for public status and investors, executives and analysts fear that they may increasingly shift their geographic focus — and as a result any jobs they create will be abroad.
“Issuers have to put themselves through a grinder to go overseas, so any significant percentage of overseas listings is a sign that our markets have become hostile to innovation and job formation,” said David Weild, a former vice chairman of the Nasdaq stock exchange and a senior adviser to Grant Thornton.
A variety of factors explain each company’s decision to list on a foreign exchange, like the increased regulatory costs of going public in the United States. Underwriting, legal and other costs are typically lower in foreign markets, companies say.