Comment: What is there to ‘like’ about Facebook flotation?
FEW flotations have captured the public’s imagination in quite the same way as Facebook’s first day of trading on Friday. As one observer stated, it was rare for such an event to take place in which everyone has a stake in the outcome.
Not quite everyone, of course. But aside from its 900 million users, Facebook attracted interest from mom ’n’ pop investors everywhere believing the $104 billion (£65bn) initial public offering to be a sure-fire home for their money at a time when it is difficult to find decent returns.
But can Facebook really live up to expectations or was this another over-hyped phenomenon that will leave lots of people with their fingers burnt?
Those who bought in to the company in its early days are the true winners. The IPO has created six billionaires and 1,000 millionaires. Founder Mark Zuckerberg is now worth $21bn.
But after rising 10 per cent the share price fell back and underwriters had to step in to prevent it slumping. The shares closed just above the $38 (£24) opening price.
The £65bn valuation was forecast in Scotland on Sunday as far back as April 2010 and analysts are already asking if the IPO was priced too highly, without regard to all that has happened in the banking sector since then, and whether greed drove this mammoth flotation rather than fundamentals.
The shares were priced at 26 times annual sales, against the more-profitable Google’s six times. On this valuation, Apple would be worth $2 trillion.
But even though revenue has grown 25-fold in five years, advertisers remain to be convinced of its value. General Motors last week withdrew its advertising claiming Facebook had not helped it sell cars.
Its modest debut on the market prompted shares in other social media to fall and online gaming company Zynga had its shares temporarily suspended to prevent them slipping further.
Zuckerberg’s challenge is maintaining Facebook’s extraordinary growth and resolving its shortcomings in the mobile market. And there are still questions about why he had to float the business in the first place as he has not said what he intends to do with the £16bn raised.
Souter sure he can make inroads in US
MARK Zuckerberg wasn’t the only one making a big splash in the US last week. Sir Brian Souter, one of Scotland’s most successful entrepreneurs, crossed the Atlantic to have a second go at turning a more traditional business model into a money making machine.
The Stagecoach founder’s £100m acquisition of parts of Coach America had a familiar ring because in 1999 he had spent £1.3bn buying its earlier manifestation Coach USA. Souter suffered badly from that overpriced deal, as did his shareholders, who saw their investments in the one-time FTSE 100 company plummet and the loss-making US business largely written off. The deal cost two Stagecoach chief executives their jobs, although one of them – Keith Cochrane – didn’t do too badly as he’s now heading Weir Group whose value dwarfs that of his former employer.
Stagecoach has bought nine coach businesses from insolvent Coach America and will turn them into megabus operations that will challenge the Greyhound service owned by rival Scottish firm FirstGroup.
Souter, who was forced to return to frontline operations and sell the US business to save the company, is confident that the businesses he’s taking on are profitable and that lightning won’t strike twice.
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