Someone finally defends the Facebook IPO

The CEO of Morgan Stanley sits down with CNBC to discuss what happened.

By Kim Peterson May 31, 2012 5:23PM
The Facebook (FB) IPO has been a disaster, and the company has largely been silent about the whole thing. We haven't seen much from CEO Mark Zuckerberg or any other executives since shares spiraled after their May 18 debut.

But one of the deal's creators, Morgan Stanley CEO James Gorman, went on national television Thursday to talk about the infamous offering. Morgan Stanley was the deal's chief underwriter, and Gorman defended his company's role and says his team acted appropriately.

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Did the company and its underwriters really need to price Facebook at $38 a share? That price has not held up in the market -- Facebook fell sharply in the days after its debut and closed Thursday at $29.60.

Gorman said that heading into the IPO, there was tremendous hype and excitement about the stock. He's right. CNBC and just about every financial news site quoted analysts and other observers who were excited about the deal. The Facebook IPO was supposed to be what brought individual retail investors back to the market.

"We had people calling in from every part of the country and internationally wanting in on this deal," he told host Maria Bartiromo in a CNBC interview. "So that demand was there at a level that we frankly hadn't seen I don't know ever." 

But investors were disappointed after a volatile first day that saw the stock close near its $38 IPO price. And that disappointment continued as the stock price continued to plummet.

Then word got out that analysts at Morgan Stanley and other underwriters lowered their estimates on Facebook's prospects shortly before the IPO. News of the lowered estimates went to large institutional investors -- but smaller retail investors had no clue.

Gorman said this is standard procedure on Wall Street.

"There is individual disclosure -- oral disclosure, no written reports -- to institutional investors interested in what that particular analyst says because they can go to many of the companies and pick up, obviously, input from a number of the different underwriters," Gorman said. "And that policy to date has not been offer that same information, either the original projection or the revised, to retail investors."

He added that this all took place during the roadshow period -- the time before the IPO when Facebook executives meet with large investors to answer questions. The demand for the stock was still there at that point, he said.

"There was no nefarious activity," he said. "This was standard operating procedure. It's the policy we and all the underwriters operated under with retail organizations. There wasn't any desire to obfuscate or hide."

Investors are suing Facebook, Morgan Stanley and other underwriters in federal court, alleging the companies didn't disclose the estimate changes to everyone.

Gorman said he was confident his team followed the correct procedures and did the job an underwriter is supposed to do. He repeatedly said that Facebook is just at the start of a long journey.

And he had a message for the people who were disappointed that a share of Facebook didn't turn into a winning lottery ticket: "The group of people who thought they were buying this stock so they could get an enormous pop were both naive and bought it under the wrong pretenses."

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May 31, 2012 6:13PM

What is wrong with the SEC. FaceBook may have more advertisers in the future so it can sell its stock at overly inflated prices like a thousand to 1 that is for every thousand dollars in stock it has for a penny in profit ten years from now.


Well save some money for PorkButt.  Everybody in the world has heard of PorkButt.  I value it at 30 billion dollars.  Thats twenty five dollars a share.  It has no advertisers now, but it will have some in the future.

Pretty enticing investment.

Jun 1, 2012 8:32AM

So here we have a Wall Street CEO telling the investor public to focus on what Facebook will be next year, and still not willing to put a price on that. Meanwhile, everyone on Wall Street, especially traders, thinks of the long term as 90 days. So funny. So hypocritical. Not funny.

Jun 1, 2012 8:22AM

It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it? Just what kind of financial disaster it would take for someone on Wall Street to ever admit they were wrong? I’m not sure I want to find out. It’s so easy to be perfect when you accept failure as the norm. No wonder they can justify paying themselves huge bonuses. Salesmen and story tellers. That's 99% of Wall Street.

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