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Historic Facebook debut falls short of expectations

Source : BUSINESS_STANDARD
Last Updated: Sat, May 19, 2012 18:40 hrs

The historic initial public offer (IPO) of Facebook Inc did not go as planned yesterday, as the social networking company’s sky-high valuation, combined with trading glitches, left the stock languishing near its offering price at the market close.

Facebook shares, which opened up 11 per cent, closed at $38.23 after a nail-biting last half hour of trading when the shares dipped to their $38 IPO price. Most investors had predicted a first-day pop.

More than 576 million shares changed hands, setting a trading volume record for US market debuts. The company had priced its IPO at the top end of its target range and increased the size of the offering, becoming the first US company to go public with a valuation greater than $100 billion. Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, 28, who retains voting control of the company and whose personal net worth is now about $20 billion, marked the debut of his company’s shares at the company’s Silicon Valley campus, symbolically ringing the opening bell for stock trading yesterday morning.

Wearing his trademark black hoodie, Zuckerberg hugged and high-fived Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, who is credited with bringing crucial business discipline to a company founded in a Harvard dorm room eight years ago.

The area outside Facebook’s offices was packed with photographers, over a dozen television trucks, and a TV news helicopter hovering overhead.

Outside of Nasdaq headquarters in New York, crowds also gathered, even as exchange officials struggled to sort out technical problems related to the huge volume of orders, which delayed the start of trading in the stock by 45 minutes and left investors guessing for more than two hours about whether their buy and sell orders had actually been executed.

The shares attracted interest from investors of all stripes, reflecting the social network's extraordinary growth and deep store of information about its 900 million users.

The IPO minted thousands of new paper millionaires among Facebook's 3,500 employees — and a handful of billionaires among its founders and early investors.

But the stock debut took place in a weak market, and traders said the smaller-than-expected first-day pop reflected the very aggressive pricing of the offering and a last-minute, near 25 per cent increase in the number of shares being sold. Analyst predictions of first-day gains had ranged from 10 per cent to 50 per cent.

“The increase in size was a big negative factor for us,” said Tim Ghriskey, chief investment officer at Solaris Asset Management, who said he cancelled some orders for the shares. The IPO price was equivalent to more than 100 times historical earnings, compared with Apple Inc’s 14 times and Google Inc’s 19 times. For many investors that made it a risky bet.

“We have got some unhappy guys out there,” said Wayne Kaufman, chief market strategist at John Thomas Financial, a retail broker on Wall Street. “They were hoping for Facebook to be considerably better. I bet there are a lot of disappointed people in the market.”

Market participants said that in the final run-up to the IPO, much of the demand was from retail investors rather than institutions. When the stock fell to $38 on Friday morning, traders say the IPO's lead underwriter Morgan Stanley stepped in to prevent the price from slipping below the IPO level.

From Facebook's perspective, a small increase in the stock showed it was priced perfectly for Zuckerberg and early investors, who pocketed maximum gains and left little of the easy money on the table.

"You want to price the offering correctly. Institutional buyers get a little bump and the company raises the right amount of money," said Kevin Hartz, co-founder and CEO of Eventbrite, an online ticketing startup that is integrated with Facebook's platform. "If the stock has a massive bump on day one that means you misread market demand and company does not raise the right amount of money."

Facebook faces many challenges as it takes its place beside Google, Apple and Amazon.com Inc as one of the giant public companies defining the next-generation Internet economy. Google in particular views Facebook as a mortal threat and is moving aggressively to integrate social networking features across its products.

At the same time, scores of young companies are building new products and services, in some cases on top of the Facebook platform and in some cases in competition with it, and attracting huge amounts of investment capital.

A handful of such so-called Web 2.0 companies, including Zynga Inc, LinkedIn Corp, Yelp Inc and Groupon Inc, have already gone public, and others have been acquired by the industry giants.

In a sign of the volatile nature of highly valued Internet stocks, all these shares fell on Friday in sympathy with Facebook's weaker-than-expected debut. In particular, social gaming company Zynga, which relies on heavily on Facebook and also provides more than 10 per cent of Facebook's revenues, fell by more than 14 per cent.




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