​Square drops its IPO price -- a warning to hot startups?

SAN FRANCISCO - Mobile payments processor Square had to sell its stock at a deep discount to complete its initial public offering, a concession signaling that investors are becoming wary of once-hot startups that haven't proven they can make money.

The IPO priced at $9 per share late Wednesday, below a target of $11 to $13 that Square set last week. The price is 42 percent below the $15.46-per-share price that Square fetched a year ago when it raised $180 million while it was still a privately held company.

Square, known for its small, white readers that plug into smartphones and tablets, now has a market value of about $3 billion compared to the $5 billion value implied in its fundraising a year ago.

The steep markdown could foreshadow trouble ahead for venture capitalists and other investors who have been pouring billions of dollars into technology startups in recent years.

The IPO discount also leaves Square with less money to draw on as it strives to turn a profit for the first time in its six-year history. Before paying its investment bankers and other fees, Square raised $231 million in the IPO, instead of the $282 million to $346 million that the San Francisco company had been seeking.

Square's shares are scheduled to begin trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol "SQ." The debut will poses another test of investors' willingness to risk their money on a small company such as Square, which is trying to topple better-established rivals in the financial services industry.

Wall Street so far seems to have little confidence in Square CEO Jack Dorsey, who has emerged as one of Silicon Valley's best-known entrepreneurs since he co-founded Twitter (TWTR) in 2006. Dorsey is also CEO at Twitter, whose stock is now stuck below its IPO price of $26 set two years ago. Like Square, Twitter still hasn't posted a profit and is also struggling to broaden the audience that uses its short-messaging service.

Despite the companies' problems, they have made Dorsey a rich man. His stake in Twitter is worth $560 million, and his stake in Square is now worth $640 million.