updated 9/18/2009 7:24:11 AM ET 2009-09-18T11:24:11

Coming off its worst year in three decades, the market for initial public offerings is starting to show signs of life.

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Eight companies are looking to raise as much as $3.7 billion when they go public next week, the most activity the U.S. IPO market has seen in a single week in nearly two years and a clear sign that Wall Street's appetite for risk is returning.

IPOs all but dried up in 2008 as investors shunned the traditionally risky bets and moved into safer assets like cash and Treasurys as the stock market tumbled.

Only 43 companies completed IPOs in the U.S. last year, down from 272 the year before and 221 in 2006, according to Renaissance Capital's IPOHome.com. It was the slowest year for IPOs since 1978.

The amount of money raised through IPOs last year sank 53 percent to $28 billion, but more than half of that came from just one sale. Without the mammoth $18 billion Visa Inc. offering in March, the largest U.S. IPO on record, last year’s total would have been a paltry $10 billion, far below the $59.7 billion raised in 2007.

In another sign of how poor demand has been, the number of companies that canceled their planned offerings nearly doubled in 2008 from the year before, according to IPOHome.com. The deals that did make it to market had disappointing returns, further discouraging investors.

The IPO market has trudged along so far this year, with 22 companies raising $5 billion in capital. Next week's heavy load of offerings could mark a turning point in the market — if all goes well.

"The IPO market has windows that open and close, and right now the window is open to get deals done," said Sal Morreale, an institutional salesman with Cantor Fitzgerald in Los Angeles.

Analysts attribute the resurgence in IPO activity to growing confidence in the stock market. Major stock indicators are up more than 50 percent since hitting 12-year lows in early March. With investors showing a willingness to take chances, companies are starting to feeling better about raising money through stock offerings.

The number of companies preparing to go public has been gaining pace since early July, four months after the stock market bottomed out. There are now 89 companies in the IPO pipeline, up from 29 in March. It typically takes a couple of months for a company to prepare for a stock offering after the initial paperwork is filed with regulators.

"This pot has been bubbling," said John Fitzgibbon, founder of IPOScoop.com. "It's just taken a while for the courage to settle in to the market to take that step forward."

Many of the companies on next week's calendar are large and well-established, with solid balance sheets that analysts say should attract strong demand.

Among the deals scheduled for next week that are gaining interest are Shanda Games Ltd., a spinoff of leading Chinese online game developer Shanda Interactive; Foursquare Capital, a newly-formed mortgage real estate insurance trust backed by AllianceBernstein; and Artio Global Investors, the parent company of Julius Baer Investment Management.

Companies looking to come public in the coming months include Dollar General, Hyatt Hotels and Dole Food Co.

"Next week will bring a lot of potential IPO investors back to the table," said Francis Gaskins, president of IPODesktop.com. "The pipeline is large enough where I think there will be a number of IPOs this fall."

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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