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The IPO of sponsor-backed hospital operator HCA Inc (HCA.N), involving nine bookrunners, recently highlighted the trend. HCA joined General Motors (GM.N) as the only two IPOs in US history to have that many bookrunners, the most since 1985 when records began, according to Thomson Reuters.

"It's a financial sponsor phenomenon that is probably going to be consistent," Frank Maturo, Bank of America Merrill Lynch's co-head of equity capital markets for the Americas, told the Reuters Global Mergers and Acquisitions Summit on Tuesday.

Nielsen Holdings' IPO earlier this year had six bookrunners, according to the data.

The list of banks engaged in an offering lengthens in deals that involve financial sponsors because the sponsors need to reward the Wall Street banks they tap for ideas, financing and other services.

Private equity-backed IPOs also tend to be larger, and more bookrunners can potentially do a better job of selling a larger amount of capital.

Equity issuances are among the most high-profile deals for bankers and there is stiff competition to get a bank's name on an IPO prospectus, said John Chirico, Citigroup's (C.N) head of capital markets origination for the Americas.

Where the competition gets extra heated is among the top contenders: In the end, the bankers said, only a handful of banks wind up actually doing the heavy lifting on an offering -- and so pocket the bulk of the fees.

"Even if you have eight or nine bookrunners, two of us will find ourselves fighting not just for the bookrunner role, but for the senior bookrunner role," said Mohit Assomull, global head of equity syndicate at Morgan Stanley (MSN).

"It's not just whether we get to run the roadshow, the marketing or the positioning, it's how we get paid."

Fees High By Comparison

Marquee share sales in the United States are paying banks less than they have historically, but the bankers at the summit shook off fears that US fees would be permanently compressed.

"We will continue to see certain areas of equities pay lower fees than others. I think you'll see with increased competition for deals, as well, that adds to fee compression," Assomull said.

But he and others said they were not concerned that the fees US banks receive for underwriting equity offerings would meaningfully shrink.

US IPO fees are higher than they are elsewhere in the world, Assomull said. IPOs in India, for example, pay a fee of 0.1 per cent to 1 per cent, while government-backed deals might pay as little as 0.001 per cent, he said.

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