Facebook Shares Fall to Record Low as Early Investors Are Allowed to Sell

More Stock Will Be Unlocked in Coming Months

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Facebook fell to a record low after freeing up an additional 271.1 million shares, boosting by 60% the number available to trade and compounding concerns that have depressed the stock since the initial public offering.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the IPO
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at the IPO

Early Facebook investors such as Goldman Sachs, Elevation Partners, Accel Partners and DST Global were allowed to start selling part of their holdings Thursday after restrictions -- designed to prevent a flood of shares immediately after an IPO -- were lifted.

Facebook declined 6.3% to $19.87 at the close in New York. The shares haven't closed above the $38 IPO price since the first day of trading. Today's trading volume -- 156.8 million shares - - was the third-highest since the IPO.

The prospect of more stock sales means Facebook will need to work even harder to convince investors that it deserves a higher price, relative to earnings, than all of its U.S.-based competitors except for LinkedIn. The shares freed up today make up only 14% of the 1.91 billion that will become available in the coming nine months.

"Buckle your seatbelts for the next couple of months until they make it through all these shares coming unlocked," said Tom Forte, an analyst at Telsey Advisory Group in New York.

Ashley Zandy, a spokeswoman for Facebook, declined to comment.

Facebook, worth about $48 billion, has lost more than $40 billion in market value since the IPO, making it the worst performer among all large IPOs on record, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Additional shares are freed up at various stages in the coming months. The next comes between Oct. 15 and Nov. 13, when restraints are removed on about 243 million shares.

But the decline has been steep enough to make some investors consider holding onto shares instead of selling as quickly as they can, said Mark Harding, an analyst at JMP Securities. Shares have fallen in anticipation of the expiration of the lock-ups, he said.

"It certainly wouldn't behoove and wouldn't be in the shareholders' best interest to dump the shares on the market all at once," he said. "I would assume that all of the investors that hold the 270 million-odd shares are probably rational, and probably realize that flooding the market with that kind of supply over such a short amount of time wouldn't help their position."

Microsoft will probably hang onto its stake after the lockup-ban lifts, a person with knowledge of the matter said earlier this month. Microsoft views Facebook as a strategic partner in the combat against Google, rather than as a near-term moneymaker, said the person, who requested anonymity because the plans are private.

Facebook has grappled with concerns about its valuation after reporting sales growth of 32% in the second quarter from the year-ago period, down from 45% in the first quarter and 55% in the fourth quarter. The second-quarter gain was dwarfed by a surge in spending on marketing and sales, which ballooned to $392 million.

Part of Facebook's challenge is making money from the growing slice of users who access the social network over mobile devices. During the second quarter, the number of ads delivered in the U.S. dropped 2% from a year earlier even amid an increase in overall daily users.

Mobile advertising probably contributed just $15 million to second-quarter sales that totaled $1.18 billion, Mr. Forte said.

The company has since added a service for software developers, enabling them to entice users to download applications onto mobile devices. The company also said earlier this week that it's testing a service that lets companies put more ads on mobile phones.

"Despite revenue growth that has decelerated, we see largely organic annual growth of " 25 percent or more through 2014, S&P Capital IQ wrote in a research note. "We have grown more optimistic about the company's efforts related to monetization and mobile."

-- Bloomberg News --
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