x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Investors left with bad egg on Facebook after IPO scramble

Felicity Glover is sure she's not the only one who was grateful at failing to get a slice of Facebook's IPO after the company posted its second-quarter earnings report.

Facebook may have been the first US company to debut with a value of more than US$100 billion (Dh367.3bn) but those heady days were short-lived. Reuters
Facebook may have been the first US company to debut with a value of more than US$100 billion (Dh367.3bn) but those heady days were short-lived. Reuters

I experienced a moment of quiet relief last Friday when Facebook released its first results as a public company.

And I'm sure I'm not the only one who was grateful - in hindsight, of course - at failing to get a slice of the social-networking site when it listed on the Nasdaq in New York on May 18.

Facebook may have been the first US company to debut with a value of more than US$100 billion (Dh367.3bn) but those heady days were short-lived. It has already lost 40 per cent of its value in the three months it has been trading.

That must be a reality check for Mark Zuckerberg, the socially awkward co-founder of Facebook who has been accused of "borrowing" the original idea for the site from fellow Harvard students, the Winklevoss twins. While they ended up settling out of court and Mr Zuckerberg managed to claw back his reputation, it is his wealth that has taken a hammering of late.

This week, Facebook's stock plummeted to trade in the $21 range, a far cry from its initial public offering price of $38.

I know I dodged a bullet on that one. What about you?

According to Reuters, a sobering report from Bernstein Research, combined with online chatter about the potential proliferation of automated Facebook accounts and a looming sell-off of employee shares next month all conspired to rock the stock, analysts say.

Investors have punished the stocks of the world's most popular social network and other consumer-focused internet companies, such as Zynga, questioning their ability to sustain growth and maintain lofty valuations, Reuters said.

Zynga, a social-gaming site, has also been struggling since its IPO at the end of last year. Unfortunately, the company pins its profits on the sale of virtual items, or on-screen cartoons, that are used to play such time-wasting games as FarmVille, CityVille and Mafia Wars. You see them on Facebook all the time thanks to bored friends boasting about their latest scores or updates.

And if the credit crunch continues, who will want to waste $10 a pop on virtual items? I certainly wouldn't.

But back to Facebook. Investors were apparently very disappointed Mr Zuckerberg did not offer a forecast for the rest of the year when it released its second-quarter results a week ago. Now Facebook is a public company, it has to answer to its investors.

Perhaps it would be a good idea for Mr Zuckerberg to work on his own social-networking skills when delivering the company's results.

Wall Street is also bracing for a potential deluge of hundreds of millions of shares after August 16, when Facebook employees can sell their company-awarded shares for the first time, Reuters added.

"It's a combination of the Bernstein note and, partly, complaints about the FacebookBot", which allows you to create "bots" that automate profiles on the site, Herman Leung, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group, told Reuters. "Lock-ups are also causing pressure on shares today.

"People are just wondering what the next update is and there's more headwinds than not. But the long-term story still feels intact."

The Bernstein Research report, by the analyst Carlos Kirjner and released on Tuesday, warned "the size of the current float could be nearly tripled by November as more and more employees begin to sell".

Let's hope it's not a frantic sell-off as employees try to cash in on what little value the company's shares will have retained by then. Social-networking sites come and go (anybody remember MySpace?) as we all know. What has been the surprise, however, is that Facebook is still popular eight years after it was launched in a college dorm room; its more than 900 million users support that view.

But how much longer will its popularity continue? Forcing unwelcome changes on users to altering their privacy preferences without their knowledge are common complaints - try Googling "I hate Facebook" for proof.

And now it's put its investors offside, while it's biggest advertisers have pulled the plug.

The next few months should be interesting. But I'll be looking on from the sidelines.