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A Dutch auction is a type of auction where the auctioneer begins with a high asking price which is lowered until some participant is willing to accept the auctioneer's price, or a predetermined reserve price (the seller's minimum acceptable price) is reached. The winning participant pays the last announced price. This is also known as a "clock auction" or an open-outcry descending-price auction.

This type of auction is convenient when it is important to auction goods quickly, since a sale never requires more than one bid. Theoretically, the bidding strategy and results of this auction are equivalent to those in a sealed first-price auction.

The Dutch auction is named for its best known example, the Dutch flower auctions.

Public offerings

The United States Department of the Treasurymarker, through the Federal Reserve Bank of New Yorkmarker (FRBNY), raises funds for the U.S. Government using a Dutch auction. The FRBNY interacts with primary dealers, including large banks and broker-dealers who submit bids on behalf of themselves and their clients using the Trading Room Automated Processing System ("TRAPS"), and are generally told of winning bids within fifteen minutes.

For example, suppose the sponsor of the issuance is seeking to raise $10 billion in ten-year notes with a 5.125% coupon and in aggregate the bids are as follows:

  • $1.00 billion at 5.115%
  • $2.50 billion at 5.120%
  • $3.50 billion at 5.125%
  • $4.50 billion at 5.130%
  • $3.75 billion at 5.135%
  • $2.75 billion at 5.140%
  • $1.50 billion at 5.145%

In this example the % at high is 66.66%, meaning only $3 billion of the $4.5 billion at 5.130% will get bonds. Bids will be filled from the lowest yield (highest price) until the entire $10 billion has been raised. This auction will clear at a yield of 5.130%, and all bidders will pay the same amount. In theory, this feature of the Dutch auction format leads to more aggressive bidding as those who in this case bid 5.115% will receive the bonds at the higher yield (lower price) of 5.130%.

A variation on the Dutch auction, OpenIPO, was used on the IPO for Google stock.

Dutch auction share repurchases

The introduction of the Dutch auction share repurchase in 1981 allows firms an alternative to the fixed price tender offer when executing a tender offer share repurchase. The first firm to utilize the Dutch auction was Todd Shipyards. A Dutch auction offer specifies a price range within which the shares will ultimately be purchased. Shareholders are invited to tender their stock, if they desire, at any price within the stated range. The firm then compiles these responses, creating a supply curve for the stock. The purchase price is the lowest price that allows the firm to buy the number of shares sought in the offer, and the firm pays that price to all investors who tendered at or below that price. If the number of shares tendered exceeds the number sought, then the company purchases less than all shares tendered at or below the purchase price on a pro rata basis to all who tendered at or below the purchase price. If too few shares are tendered, then the firm either cancels the offer (provided it had been made conditional on a minimum acceptance), or it buys back all tendered shares at the maximum price.

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