Facebook IPO Eclipses Google, GM

Social Network Gained as Much as 18% in Trading Debut

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Facebook Inc. gained as much as 18% in its trading debut, following a record initial public offering that made the social network more costly than almost every company in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index.

The shares advanced 11% to $42.18 at 11:30 a.m. in New York, after earlier surging as high as $45, giving it a market value of $123.4 billion. Facebook sold 421.2 million shares at $38 each to raise $16 billion yesterday. The IPO price valued the company at 107 times trailing 12-month earnings, more than every S&P 500 member except Amazon.com Inc. and Equity Residential.

Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg rings the Nasdaq bell.
Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg rings the Nasdaq bell.

That valuation also made Facebook the largest company to go public in the U.S. Now co-founder Mark Zuckerberg has to reward investors by squeezing more profit out of advertising, said Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business.

"It shows tremendous confidence in the guy wearing the hoodie," said Mr. Gordon, referring to Zuckerberg and the signature sweatshirt he wore during meetings to market the stock. "He hasn't specified how he's going to do it, but he'll have to do it to justify this price."

In less than a decade, Mr. Zuckerberg, 28, has overseen Menlo Park, Calif.-based Facebook's evolution from a Harvard University dorm-room project into a social network with more than 900 million users. Still, revenue growth is poised to slow for a third straight year and advertising sales haven't kept pace with user additions.

Facebook priced at the top end of its range of $34 to $38 a share, valuing it at about 26 times sales in the 12 months through March 31. As of yesterday, that was more than twice as much as AvalonBay Communities Inc., currently the most costly company by that measure in the S&P 500.

"It seems like a very full valuation, but I'm sure there was an almost insatiable amount of retail interest in Facebook and that 's how the bankers looked at it," said Dan Veru, chief investment officer at Palisade Capital Management in Fort Lee, N.J. "Everyone wants a piece of Facebook."

At $16 billion, Facebook's sale surpassed that of General Motors Co., making it the second-largest in U.S. history, excluding so-called over-allotments, which let underwriters buy more shares at a later date, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

GM raised $15.8 billion in November 2010, before expanding the sale to $18.1 billion when underwriters exercised the over-allotment option. Visa Inc. raised $17.9 billion in its 2008 IPO, the biggest in the U.S., and later expanded the sale to $19.7 billion. Facebook's underwriters may buy an additional 63.2 million shares at the IPO price, which would enlarge the IPO to as much as $18.4 billion.

Facebook's offering price gave it a market capitalization almost double the $60 billion United Parcel Service Inc., previously the biggest company to complete an IPO, was valued at when it went public in 1999, according to data compiled by Bloomberg and Dealogic.

Facebook stock is listed on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the symbol FB.

The IPO price gave Facebook a market value about half the size of Google Inc., which was worth more than $200 billion as of yesterday. The search-engine operator's value has jumped almost ninefold in the eight years since it went public. To hand its public owners the same returns after pricing at the top of its offering range, Facebook would have to be worth about $920 billion by 2020. Apple Inc., the most valuable company in the world, had a market value of about $496 billion as of yesterday.

Facebook's offering eclipsed the 2004 IPO of Google, one of its chief competitors for online advertising. Google raised $1.9 billion in its initial share sale, including an over-allotment option. The shares sold at $85 apiece, giving Google a market value of about $23 billion, or about 10 times sales in the 12 months through June 30, 2004.

Facebook boosted the deal's size amid a two-week series of meetings where Chief Executive Officer Zuckerberg, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Financial Officer David Ebersman pitched the sale to investors across the U.S.

The social network generated sales of $3.7 billion last year, which are poised to rise 64% to $6.1 billion in 2012, according to researcher EMarketer Inc. Last month, Facebook said first-quarter profit fell to $205 million as sales growth slowed and marketing costs more than doubled.

Facebook is trying to adapt as more users access its site via mobile phones instead of the web. That put pressure on company executives to articulate their mobile strategy as they marketed the stock to potential investors ahead of the IPO. Facebook has said it would add mobile advertising along with new ads to reach users when they log off the company's website.

Facebook still faces hurdles in traditional Web advertising. General Motors, the world's biggest automaker by vehicles sold, said this week it was halting display ads on Facebook, while maintaining brand-promotion pages.

"It worries me about the pressures that will be on Facebook to create this new stream of revenue," John Chachas, managing partner at Methuselah Capital Advisors LP, said in an interview on Bloomberg Television. "A lot of what you do on Facebook is hanging out. That does not lend itself to the monetization question."

~~ Bloomberg News
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