Facebook falls flat in public debut

By Barbara Ortutay

Associated Press

Published: Friday, May 18 2012 2:49 p.m. MDT

A man stops to photograph Nasdaq in Times Square as Facebook has its IPO, Friday, May 18, 2012, in New York. The social media company priced its IPO on Thursday at $38 per share, and beginning Friday regular investors will have a chance to buy shares.

Richard Drew, Associated Press

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NEW YORK — After all the hype, Facebook's first day as a public company ended where it began. Its stock closed at $38.23, up 23 cents, after pricing Thursday night at $38 per share.

After an anxiety-filled half-hour delay, its stock began trading on the Nasdaq Stock Market for the first time as investors were finally able to put a dollar value on the company that turned online social networking into a global cultural phenomenon.

The stock opened at 11:32 a.m. at $42.05, but soon dipped to $38.01. By noon, it was up again at $40.40, a 6 percent increase. It fluttered throughout the afternoon, but it never hit the double-digit jump that many Facebook-watchers had expected. By the end of the day, more than 500 million shares had changed hands

The closing price means Facebook is worth about $105 billion, more than Amazon.com, McDonalds and storied Silicon Valley icons Hewlett-Packard and Cisco.

But as many people looked for a big first-day pop in Facebook's share price, the single-digit increase was somewhat of a letdown.

"It wasn't quite as exciting as it could have been," said Nick Einhorn, an analyst with IPO advisory firm Renaissance Capital. "But I don't think we should view it as a failure."

Indeed, the small jump in price could be seen as an indication that Facebook and the investment banks that arranged the initial public offering priced the stock in an appropriate range. It's also a supply and demand issue. Facebook offered nearly 20 percent of its available stock in the IPO, so there was enough to meet demand. In comparison, Google offered just 7.2 percent of its stock when it went public in 2004 — and rose 18 percent on day one.

To IPOdesktop's Francis Gaskins, it means mom-and-pop investors are becoming "much more educated and careful" about not buying into hype. And he said that the banks taking Facebook public have learned from the 10 IPOs of social media companies in the past year and are better able to gauge how much stock to make available in an initial offering.

It might not have been possible for the social network to live up to the hype that led up to its IPO. It's Facebook, after all, a place where people are emotionally invested in endless online diversions and rekindled friendships, an endless depository of baby photos, favorite songs and fleeting memories.

"It's probably one of the first times there has been an IPO where everyone sort of has a stake in the outcome," said Gartner analyst Brian Blau. While most Facebook users won't see a penny from the offering, they are all intimately familiar with the company.

Earlier Friday, the company's 28-year-old CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, smiled as he rang the opening bell from Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Surrounded by cheering Facebook employees and wearing his signature hoodie, he pushed the button that signals the opening of the stock market in New York. The morning's events followed an all-night "hackathon" at the company, where engineers stayed up coding software and conjuring up new ideas for Facebook and its 900 million users.

"Right now this all seems like a big deal. Going public is an important milestone in our history. But here's the thing, our mission isn't to be a public company. Our mission is to make the world more open and connected," Zuckerberg said. "In the past eight years, all of you out there have built the largest community in the history of the world. You've done amazing things that we never would have dreamed of and I can't wait to see what you guys all do going forward."

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