Facebook's IPO Means What For You?

PHOTO: Facebook logo

At the same time the price and public clamor for Facebook's blockbuster IPO is rising, experts' expectations for the company's performance are in decline.

The company on Tuesday raised the asking price of its offering – expected on Friday -- from a range of $28-$35 to $34-$38.

Yet at the same time, General Motors announced it will stop buying ads on the social network after a $10 million campaign. A GM spokesman quoted by the Wall Street Journal said GM remained "committed to an aggressive content strategy" with the company, and that Facebook remained "a very effective tool for engaging with our customers." As for GM's spending one more dime on advertising, however: nertz. Facebook's ads, it said, did not sell cars.

In a survey of 124 portfolio managers and buy-side analysts conducted by Rivel Research Group, only 8 percent said they expect to see Facebook trading above its offering price six months after the IPO. Thirty-one percent said they expect the offering to have no impact whatsoever on the overall market for IPOs.

Yet excitement among ordinary investors for the IPO continues to run high, given that past IPOs have made some investors rich. An analysis by ABC News shows, for example, that a share of Johnson & Johnson bought at the IPO price of $375 would be worth $10 million today. A share of Apple bought at the 1980 IPO price of $22 would be worth about $44,800 now.

The fact that Facebook's stock has been virtually impossible for little guys to buy in advance of Friday's offering may only have heightened the shares' appeal, on the principle that what people want most are things they cannot have.

Jay Ritter, an expert on the history of IPOs and a professor of finance at the University of Florida, says Facebook's offering is indeed historic. "This is more than just another IPO," he says. "It's the largest ever for an Internet company, and among the largest for any in U.S. company in history." It's unprecedented, he says, for a company just eight years old to receive a market cap of $100 billion.

Ritter says other recent IPOs have raised comparable amounts, including Visa's IPO and GM's in 2010. Both companies had name recognition: "Everybody knows G.M. Lots of people have a Visa card." Yet neither offering generated anywhere near the excitement as Facebook's.

Of course, neither company had a chief executive of Mark Zuckerberg's star power or youth appeal. And, says Ritter, neither had Facebook's "blistering" growth rate. "People confuse rapid growth with a good investment," he says.

Now the $100 billion question is, can Facebook maintain that growth by better monetizing its 900-million-plus users?

Larry Kim, founder of WordStream, a Boston a provider of search engine marketing services, isn't optimistic.

"We're not financial experts," he demurs. "We're experts on online advertising." WordStream's analysis of the comparative effectiveness of Facebook's and Google's display ads, however, concludes that Google has by far the better product. Whereas Google has a wide variety of formats to offer advertisers--including video and ones customized for mobile devices—Facebook, says Kim, has only two.

Google, he says, does a better job targeting ads on the basis of recent customer purchases: An advertiser selling auto accessories, say, would want to target somebody who's just bought a car. Google can do that. Facebook can't, Kim says. "Facebook delivers crappy messages to the wrong people at the wrong time." Advertisers using Facebook, in his opinion, are "wasting money."

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