Facebook falls flat in market debut

After opening at $42.05, the stock sees a volatile day of trading and closes just above the $38 IPO price. Shares of Zynga drop so sharply that trading is halted.

By Kim Peterson May 18, 2012 7:48AM
Credit: © David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Caption: Facebook Inc. signageUpdated 4:51 p.m. ET

(FB) had a rough introduction to the market Friday.

The stock saw a quick burst in early trading, opening at $42.05, but within 20 minutes dropped back to its IPO price of $38 a share. The debut was surprisingly disappointing, given all the excitement around the IPO.

Things never really got much better. The stock later recovered slightly to more than $41, but lost steam in late trading and ended at $38.23 on trading volume of 566 million. That still placed the company's value higher than those of McDonald's (MCD), Citigroup (C) and Amazon (AMZN).

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With all the hype around this IPO -- and all the talk of excitement at the retail-investor level -- who would have imagined that Facebook's underwriters would be fighting to stabilize shares at $38 heading into the close? But that's exactly what seemed to happen Friday afternoon, when investors appeared keen to dump the stock before the weekend break.

One of Facebook's largest customers, Zynga (ZNGA), saw shares plunge so sharply that trading was halted twice. Zynga shares fell by more than 13% in trading to close at $7.16. Other social-media stocks also sold off. Yelp (YELP) closed down more than 12% to $18.64, Groupon (GRPN) dropped nearly 7% to $11.58 and LinkedIn (LNKD) fell more than 5% to $99.02.

Facebook's stock price and valuation have been hotly debated for weeks. Some investors were thrilled to get into the stock at just about any price. The brand is obviously well known, with more than 900 million people actively using the site worldwide.

Investors like to buy what they know, and brokers reported intense interest in the IPO at the retail level.

But critics say the "dumb money" is pouncing on the IPO while smarter investors take a wait-and-see approach. Some investors say there were too many red flags surrounding the company. Its fast-growing mobile side isn't making money, for example, and Facebook has zero presence in China, the world's biggest Internet market.

One of the biggest red flags: Facebook has shortened its so-called lockup period so that a flood of new shares could hit the market in just three months. The number of Facebook shares that trade could jump to 1 billion, Jim Jubak notes.

Facebook got hit with its first "sell" rating on Friday. Analysts at Pivotal Research Group, which made the call, set a $30 target price on the stock. "We are wary of the disconnect between revenue growth and operating/capital expense growth expectations," Pivotal analyst Brian Wieser said in a research note, according to Reuters. "The market is pricing Facebook as a less risky asset than Google, which we believe is simply not the case."

Market watchers anticipated that Facebook shares would pop on the first day. After all, most IPOs are priced precisely to generate a first-day surge -- and underwriters have tools at their disposal to keep a stock in positive territory. You want a stock to rise early to reflect healthy investor demand. When a stock falls on its first day -- which happened to Zynga in December -- it can be branded a flop.

Expectations were so high for Facebook, in fact, that one analyst said a first-day pop of less than 50% would be a disappointment. "I think anything over 50% will be considered a successful offering. Anything under that would be underwhelming," Morningstar analyst Jim Krapfel told Reuters. "A lot of retail investors are not concerned about valuation. That's what is going to drive the first-day pop."

Facebook has been compared more favorably with Google (GOOG), which was priced at $85 a share in 2004 and ended its first day at $100. The stock took off like a rocket after that and now trades above $600. Is Facebook the next Google? It's a question that nags even the most skeptical investors.

Unlike some other recent tech IPOs -- I'm looking at you, Groupon (GRPN) -- Facebook is profitable. It earned $1 billion in profit last year, in fact, which means Facebook was priced at 100 times trailing earnings. Compare that with Google's trailing P/E of 23.5. Apple's (AAPL) is a little less than 13.

Facebook hasn't given profit forecasts, but one analyst, Ken Sena at Evercore Partners, estimates the company could earn $4.5 billion in 2014, DealBook reports.

Facebook is clearly benefiting from a flood of investor enthusiasm. The company previously priced its IPO at between $28 and $35 a share but upped the range Tuesday to between $34 and $38. It also expanded the number of IPO shares to 421.2 million from 337.4 million.

The company raised $16 billion Thursday for itself and its early investors. It was the third-largest IPO in U.S. history, behind the $19.7 billion raised by Visa (V) in 2008 and the $18.1 billion raised by General Motors (GM) in 2010.

The $38 IPO price puts CEO Mark Zuckerberg's worth at about $19.1 billion on paper. Other large Facebook shareholders are also raking in the dough. Dustin Moskovitz, who helped Zuckerberg start the company, is worth nearly $5.1 billion. Another founder, Eduardo Saverin -- whose relocation to tax-friendly Singapore stirred controversy -- is likely worth about $1.4 billion.

Facebook's rank-and-file employees were expected to clean up as well. If you believe this calculation from 2010 on Quora, the average Facebook employee has nearly 34,000 shares -- which amounts to almost $1.3 million at the IPO price.

Several hundred employees celebrated all night long Thursday, participating in a companywide "hackathon" and staying awake until Zuckerberg rang the opening bell for the Nasdaq from Facebook's offices in Menlo Park, Calif. Employees were said to be drinking Red Bull and spinning tunes in the section of the company's headquarters known as Hackers Square, DealBook reports.

Friday is just the coming-out party for Facebook. The real test of the stock will come over the next year, after Facebook's lockup period expires and the company offers up a few quarters of earnings reports. Facebook is the star of the market now, but can it continue to meet the very high expectations of its investors?

More on Facebook's IPO
May 18, 2012 10:24AM
Facebook is getting old now its all about Twitter, Facebook has too much drama for me i cant take it anymore
May 18, 2012 10:24AM

Before you plop down your $38 for a piece of FB ask yourself a few simple questions.

1. What does this comapny actually produce? (It is not Microsoft or Apple)

2. Where does a value of $108 Billion come from? (FB has nowhere near that in tangible assets like realestate or inventory)

3. When the fickle consumer takes to a new idea what will FB have to keep it afloat? (K-mart &Sears had land, stores, and inventory to take to the bankruptcy court to restructure with)

4. How many things have I wasted $ on in the past that sit in the garage and never get used?

5. Will I be embarassed to put my shares of FB in my yard sale for a dime when everybody knows that I paid $38.00 for them?


Looks like smoke and mirrors to me

May 18, 2012 10:21AM

another ponzie scheme dont buy it


May 18, 2012 10:20AM
congratulations to you all have earned it...Now saying that I need some residuals from this transactions check please lol
May 18, 2012 10:20AM
Poor poor people... you didn't remember when home interest rates were 16+% you don't remember the pounding people took with the internet craze of the 80's when people lost their shirts, and like lemming you'll loose in this forgetting AOL ect... sit down buckle up and brace... it's one hell of a ride. Oh and for those that think "I'm in on the ground floor"... believe me the real ground floor is already making money off you....
May 18, 2012 10:19AM

Here's the long and short of it:

Facebook is nothing more than a glorified e-mail/instant messaging program.

May 18, 2012 10:18AM

Here's the long and short of it:


Facebook is nothing more than a glorified e-mail/instant messaging program.  

May 18, 2012 10:17AM
..."money (from nuthin) and yer chicks for free"...or something like that.  Wave the wand and "poof" there's the frog dressed as the prince; and we're hearing reports that Ben Bernanke, one of the more well known "money from nuthin" devotees is set to dive in to the pond and hop on a few shares.
May 18, 2012 10:17AM
God's blessings and congratulations
May 18, 2012 10:10AM
Ha Ha, I just deleted my Facebook account. Not letting some tax avoiding low life benefit from my account. 
May 18, 2012 10:09AM

Facebook is free now, but how much longer is that gonna last? I looked at some of the long-range plans, and they are terrifying. It looks like before long, to do anything on the web, you will have to have a Facebook account. It's just going to make it easier for the govt. to snoop around in your affairs. I foresee a day when you will not only have to pay your ISP a fee for accessing the Internet, you will also have to pay Facebook to access any sites that are worth a darn. It's going to be like cable TV for the Internet. You could even be charged by the number of times you visit a page. People will say that won't happen, but it will, and when that day comes, I'm taking my computer outside, dumping a gallon of gasoline on it, and sending it up in a blaze of glory. Think about how many sites require you to have a FB account just to post comments. I see FB as an evil serpent, poised to squeeze the life out of the Internet, and this IPO is going to lead us down the path of total annihilation. Btw, I don't have a FB account and never will.

May 18, 2012 10:05AM

Only FOOLS who are overcome by their own greed are blind enough to buy into all this

HYPE, and I predict that there are going to be a lot of people who learn a very painful

[and costly] lesson in the coming weeks/months.


It's like when a new model of car hits the market; NEVER buy it as there is an excellent

chance that the first year of that model will have FLAWS and you will take a beating, so

wait until the next year and be smart.


This Facebook is the same thing; it looks GREAT and it will be your ticket to HEAVEN,

but hold on a minute and take a breath - wait a little while and be smart, because this is

a VERY risky investment.


If you want to gamble with your money where "The House" has ALL the advantages

[and odds of winning] GO TO LAS VEGAS.

May 18, 2012 9:56AM
I think a new name Farcebook would be appropriate!  so over the top!! :)
May 18, 2012 9:52AM
where's the black people that work for him?  Millions of black people use Facebook its only fair that we should be working there too!
May 18, 2012 9:46AM
There's an old joke about a barrel of fish that changes hands again and again at ever-higher prices until a buyer finally pries open the lid and finds that the fish are all rotten. When he complains, the seller gives him an incredulous look and says, "Those aren't eating fish. Those are trading fish."
May 18, 2012 9:37AM
2 minutes into the trading day and FB trade was halted.  Too funny!
May 18, 2012 8:17AM

Mark Z is a D Bag.  He is going to take your money and run.  Facebook is a useless TIMESUCK! 


I predict a mass exodus of users once the marketing begins.

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