Explaining Southern California's economy

Facebook IPO: Will it rescue venture capitalism?

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

The venture capital business has been under some stress for a while now. It's not that it's doing all that badly. It's just that it isn't doing as well as it has in the past. This is related to the overall weakness in the economy, not just in the U.S. but also Europe: it's tougher for VCs to raise money, and it's tougher for VCs to sell their portfolio companies to established firms or exit their investments via initial public offerings (IPOs).

But that could all change with the much-anticipated Facebook IPO, due to happen later this year. 

Or not. This is from Fox Business:

“A little wind may have left the sails after some of the big name IPOs failed to live up to the overblown expectations. VC fundraising challenges are likely to start having a negative trickledown effect,” Tom Rodgers of Advanced Technology Ventures said....

That mixed track record is putting even more pressure on Facebook, which is expected to become the largest Internet IPO on record. Unlike some of the recent Internet companies that stumbled, Facebook has a well-developed business model and an estimated $4 billion in annual revenue, which may pave the way for a valuation of up to $100 billion.

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Facebook IPO: It's all about the advertising

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

This information is all over the place, but I got it from the Globe and Mail:

Facebook generated about $4.3-billion in revenue last year, according to estimates from the research firm eMarketer, with advertising accounting for nearly 90 per cent of that amount. This year, the company should post revenue of nearly $6-billion, eMarketer forecasts.

And one assumes that 90 percent of that $6 billion will also come from advertising. And when Facebook makes $100 billion, many years after its IPO, 90 percent of that will come from advertising.

Does that sound like putting too many eggs in one basket? Maybe. Except that Google is putting more in one basket. It made $37.9 billion 2011 — and 96 percent of that was advertising!

This week, Facebook is expected to file with the Securities and Exchange Commission, for an IPO later this year. So everyone will finally get a look behind the curtain of how the business is run, financed — and where the revenues really come from. But let's be honest. It's all going to depend on advertising, advertising, advertising. This could be a problem for Facebook's long-term growth and profitability because Facebook might have already signed up just about everyone it can. That's a huge audience — and that audience spends LOTS of time on Facebook — but they're not on Facebook for the same reasons they're on Google.

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Facebook IPO? Oh, who really cares...

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

At Forbes, Peter Cohan isn't exactly thrilled by Facebook's impending IPO. Which, it should be added, is no longer being talked about aa a $100 billion public offering so much as a $75-$100 billion public offering, with the emphasis on that lower number. Anyway, here's Cohan:

It is popular in the media to compare the Facebook IPO to that of Google whose price has risen nicely since its 2004 IPO from $84 to $580. That 30% compound annual growth is good – but Google trades 19% below its 2007 peak of $715.

To be fair, there is a bit of good news for those hoping that Facebook stock will climb after it goes public.  A quick look at Google’s 2004 prospectus reveals that its IPO price of $84 valued Google at a P/E of 80 – the same as Facebook’s estimated P/E (Google had 271 million shares and estimated 2004 net income of $286 million at the time of its August 2004 IPO).

That’s the only glimmer of good news for why Facebook’s IPO might breathe some life into the business of VCs and tech entrepreneurs. But Facebook’s inability to transform the way companies operate their business means that it will remain a niche phenomenon in the grander economic scheme.

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Will Goldman Sachs lose out on Facebook IPO?

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Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks during a news conference at Facebook headquarters on October 6, 2010 in Palo Alto, California.

The long-awaited day will finally arrive next week, when Facebook files for its initial public offering (IPO) later this year. According to the Wall Street Journal, the offering — which will be fairly limited as far as actual stock sold goes — will price the social network at $75-$100 billion. That would make it one of the biggest IPOs of all time. It could actually help California balance its budget.

But there's more!

The Vampire Squid — aka Goldman Sachs — may not get to lead the IPO. the WSJ reports that Morgan Stanley, Goldman's main Wall Street rival, will get the plumb role. 

Let's not sugar-coat it: This would be humiliating for Goldman, which has been angling to lead Facebook's IPO ever since it set up a private market in Facebook shares in 2011 (and likely before that). It would also be costly. While Goldman will certainly participate, it won't get the millions in fees it was probably expecting, and definitely lobbying for.

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Has the 'post-Google' era arrived?

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Google reported fourth quarter earnings today and missed Wall Street's estimates by a country mile. Investors were looking for $10.51 per share. They got $9.50. This immediately gave some Google bears justification for cutting their target prices for the Internet search giant — and for making even more drastic pronouncements. For example (this is from MarketWatch):

“Is the post-Google era upon us?” asked analyst Scott Devitt of Morgan Stanley in a note to clients. He cut his price target to $590 from $642 while leaving his rating at equal-weight, or neutral.

Other analysts are keeping their calls for Google in the stratosphere. But the fourth quarter miss might be signaling something more ominous — or optimistic, depending on your perspective — than the end of the Google Age. 

The beginning of the Facebook Age.

If Facebook stages, as expected, an IPO later this year, it could become overnight a $100 billion company, by market capitalization, raising $10 billion in the process. There's every possibility that investors are preparing for this earthshaking event. Google's struggles provide an ideal excuse for them to trim their Google positions to prepare to move into Facebook.

Facebook shares will be prices at a premium, given that the company probably isn't planning on selling very much of itself in its IPO, continuing a recent trend of tech companies limiting the initial "float" of shares to command a higher valuation. 

So Google is under pressure at almost the same time that Facebook is poised to capture investor attention and shift the tech world decisively toward a more social, less search-driven model. Web and mobile users are spending their time on these sites and with their apps, so this is where the action is. The big question is whether they'll be able to make money off advertising in the same bountiful way that Google has from search.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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