Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Facebook shares pummeled again

Facebook shares sank further even as US markets pushed higher
AFP/File - Kimihiro Hoshino

Facebook shares sank further Tuesday even as US markets pushed higher, as analysts blasted underwriters and the company for getting greedy in the most-awaited IPO in years.

On the second full day of trade after its much-anticipated Friday debut, the shares were at $32.25, down 5.1 percent from Monday's close and 15.1 percent lower than the IPO price of $38.00.

In early trade the shares fell as low as $30.98 before regaining some of Tuesday's lost ground.

The sell-off wiped off more than $15 billion from the $104 billion valuation the company earned in the initial public offering on Friday.

"They issued too many shares and the market wasn't ready to absorb them, that's all there is to it. The market isn't ready to absorb it," said Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities.

The second-largest US initial public offering took off promisingly Friday as shares rose to $45 at one point.

But hours into trade the underwriters were forced to step in to prevent them from dropping below the IPO price. They ended with just a modest 23 cent gain for the day.

On Monday and Tuesday the backers could not hold off the flood of selling pressure, and the shares tumbled again.

The sell-off sparked more finger pointing and anger from those who had expected the price to zoom to massive gains like the immediate doubling of career-oriented social network LinkedIn's IPO price last year.

"Investors are searching for someone to blame and there are plenty of suspects," said Paul Ausick at 24/7Wall St.

Analysts blamed especially lead underwriter Morgan Stanley for allowing Facebook last week to increase the price and the offering size to 421 million shares, raising $16 billion.

"The underwriters placed the stocks with people who really were not that committed to owning it, and so a lot of them sold it," said Pachter.

"They sent us false signals by adding 84 million shares to the offering on Wednesday, so right before they went public," he said. "They were wrong, they completely blew it."

But Lou Kerner, founder of the Social Internet Fund, blamed a "perfect storm" of several events: the announcement by General Motors days ahead of the IPO that it saw little use in advertising on Facebook; the Nasdaq market's problems processing Facebook orders when trade opened Friday; and Morgan Stanley's own cut of its forecasts for Facebook.

"So you had a lot of things coming at once and happening either on the day of the IPO or just prior to the IPO that I think had a real negative impact," Kerner said.

But also underpinning the price fall has been the realization by many that there are real outstanding questions about Facebook's revenue-generating potential, and that its advertising business remains a work in progress.

Facebook flop a "perfect storm": analyst Duration: 00:49

"We do believe that the company still faces near-term challenges. Slowdown in revenue growth and declines in operating margins may further pressure the stock price," said Rick Summer of Morningstar.

Facebook itself also came in for some hits for being greedy in the IPO, which came at a time in which markets were generally skittish over more turmoil in the eurozone and Greece's possible withdrawal from the euro.

"The company on its roadshow did not do a very convincing job... of making investors believe that they were going to act in their best interest," said Pachter.

Although conclusion was that the issue was overpriced was widespread, analysts were less willing to predict the direction of trade after Tuesday's fall.

"The downward move in the stock price has been swift, but predicting short-term swings is truly a challenge," said Summer.

"I think if you look forward six, 12 months, the trading of the shares today -- the first few days after the IPO -- it's really just going to be noise," said Kerner.

"The main thing that Facebook should do is focus on execution, which they've done a great job of during their entire lifetime."

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