How smaller investors can play Facebook
With pre-IPO shares going mostly to Wall Street's top clients, advisers are seeking alternative ways to be part of the action.
By AnnaMaria Andriotis and Jonnelle Marte
Jeff Sica, a financial adviser in Morristown, N.J., for months has been hearing the same request from clients and it isn't about which muni bond looks the most promising these days. It is all about Facebook Inc., and whether regular investors can get in on its coming IPO. But so far Mr. Sica hasn't made any promises, worried that his firm may not receive a single share of the social-media giant, despite being a client of one of the deal's underwriters. "It's just not that easy to get a piece of a hot IPO," he says
Across the country, it has become Mission Impossible for countless financial advisers: trying to nab an investment in the most highly anticipated initial public offering in recent memory. But while most clients will be disappointed, financial advisers and planners are looking for ways to soften the blow with at least some indirect ways to be part of the Facebook action.
It helps to be wealthy. So-called accredited investors, those with a net worth of more than $1 million (excluding their primary residence) or an annual income over $200,000 for the past two years, can buy shares of private companies at online marketplaces such as SharesPost and SecondMarket. (Trading in shares of pre-IPO Facebook at both sites halted on March 30, at the request of the company, so that it could set its IPO price range.)
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But that hasn't stopped advisers for smaller clients from trying to get into the game, by investing in mutual funds that own slices of private companies. Indeed, the list is fairly large. T. Rowe Price (TROW) has a group of funds that own Facebook, including the $30 billion T. Rowe Price Growth Stock fund, with a 0.7% stake. Several Morgan Stanley (MS) Investment Management funds also own the Internet firm, including the $1.7 billion Morgan Stanley Focus Growth fund, which has a 3.6% holding. Fidelity Investments says more than 30 of its funds have invested in Facebook.
There also are publicly traded companies that invest in private firms before they go public. GSV Capital (GSVC), for instance, with roughly $167 million in assets, had about 7% of its portfolio in Facebook as of the first quarter of 2012. It also owns several other in-demand private firms, such as Twitter and e-commerce website Gilt Groupe.
Despite all the excitement over Facebook's IPO, which is expected to value the firm as high as $96 billion, investing in such deals is fraught with risk, says Matt Reiner, chief investment officer for Capital Investment Advisors in Atlanta. Over the past year, several headline-grabbing debuts from tech companies have disappointed investors. Online radio service provider Pandora (P) and daily deal site Groupon (GRPN) are down around 45% and 50%, respectively, from their IPO prices.
Still, for those investors determined to buy shares after the IPO, advisers recommend sticking to some guidelines. For starters, consider keeping the bet small and not buying at the open, since shares often soar early, says Matthew Andrews, portfolio manager at Private Capital Advisors, a Manhattan-based wealth management firm. In fact, Mr. Andrews suggests waiting a few weeks before considering a purchase or even six months, when insiders can first sell off some of their stakes, according to restrictions set by the company.
Meanwhile, it appears Facebook is working to expand the number of shares it makes available to retail investors. According to its updated IPO prospectus filed last week, the social-media company added E*Trade (ETFC) to its list of underwriters a move experts say means some clients of the online trading firm will get a chance to buy shares at the IPO price. Indeed, E*Trade already is taking "conditional" orders from clients; the minimum order is 50 shares. E*Trade and Facebook declined to comment.
At least one other discount broker, Charles Schwab (SCHW) also will have a limited number of shares to sell to some clients, according to a company spokesman.
Another option, says financial adviser Robert Russell in Dayton, Ohio: buying shares of publicly traded companies that create apps for Facebook, including social gaming app developer Zynga (ZNGA) and SNAP Interactive (STVI), which has created a popular dating app. Mr. Russell says more investors could pile into these companies if Facebook's stock takes off. "You can play the trickle-down effect coming from Facebook," he says.
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