Saturday 24 March 2018

After hype and delays, Facebook launches on NY on Stock Exchange

Huge excitement surrounds the flotation of Facebook, the website founded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Huge excitement surrounds the flotation of Facebook, the website founded by CEO Mark Zuckerberg.
Peter Flanagan

Peter Flanagan

ON a day of hype, drama and delays, Facebook was eventually launched on the New York Stock Exchange this afternoon.

It made its Wall Street debut at 3pm (Irish time), raising about $16bn in one of the biggest launches in US history.

"A 15 to 20pc pop is in the realm of possibility," Tim Loughran, a finance professor at the University of Notre Dame, told Reuters.

One of the most interested investors worldwide will be Bono. He has been the butt of investing jokes for years but Bono will have the last laugh today when his faith in Facebook makes him the world's richest rock star.

The U2 frontman and his associates at the investment firm Elevation Partners, will be sitting on a massive multibillion dollar profit on their investment.

The most hyped flotation on a public market for years will take place this afternoon when Facebook joins the Nasdaq stock exchange. Shares in the company were floated at $38 (€30), pricing the company at $104bn (€82bn), but they rose in value immediately,

Elevation, which invests in media, technology and music companies, paid around $90m for just over 2.3pc of the company in November 2009. At the time Elevation had a reputation as "arguably the worst-run institutional fund of any size in the United States", according to the influential investing blog, 24/7 Wall Street.

Now however, that stake will be valued at about $2.4bn (€1.9bn), of which Bono's share will be as much as $1.5bn (€1.17bn). That profit will push Bono ahead of Paul McCartney as the richest musician on the planet. The former Beatle is worth as estimated £665m (€827m).

Bono of course won't be the only person to make a fortune out of today's initial public offering (IPO). In Dublin, the flotation will make paper millionaires of a number of staff at Facebook's European headquarters in the docklands.

Some eight staff here will be worth seven figures, while more than 130 other Dublin employees hold shares that will be valued at more than €100,000.

Like many companies that are either quoted on the stock market or are expected to go public at some point, Facebook offers share options to the vast majority of its staff. Unlike most companies however, the astronomical value being placed on the company will see an enormous windfall for even lower and middle-level staff.

However, most of those options, known as restricted stock units, cannot be cashed in until they have vested, usually after three or four years. Most of the staff in Dublin joined in late 2009 and from 2010 on.

Despite the enormous excitement around today's flotation, doubts remain about how Mark Zuckerberg's company can turn 901 million users into massive profits.

Most of Facebook's earnings come from advertising and the company has admitted that it is struggling to come up with an advertising model for people who access the website on their mobile phones.

Even on the main website, the company is having difficulty convincing users to click on ads. A study this week showed more than 80pc of users "hardly ever" or "never" click on ads on the website.

Statistics like that have caused alarm among potential investors, and General Motors -- the world's biggest car maker -- ended its advertising deal with the company, saying the ads "had little impact on (its) consumers".

A number of big investors, including the bank Goldman Sachs are also selling more of their shares in the company than was originally expected today. Nevertheless, interest in buying into the company is showing no sign of slowing down, with an unusually high number of regular people trying to buy shares.

Unfortunately for them, the chances of making a profit immediately are remote.

The shares doled out today have already been snapped up by big institutions and anyone buying shares this afternoon will likely be buying after the share price "pops" at the start of trading. Individual's putting their money into Facebook "need to be able to stomach a lot of volatility," according to Arvind Bhatia, an analyst with American stock broker Sterne Agee.

Business Newsletter

Read the leading stories from the world of Business.

Also in Business