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Facebook faceplant?

Money | IPO disappoints as skeptics question company's future

Issue: "Effective Compassion," June 16, 2012

The largest initial public offering (IPO) in Nasdaq's history on May 18 ended up being considerably less than expected. Technical glitches delayed the start of trading on Facebook shares for nearly two hours. That delay shook investor confidence and share prices immediately started to fall from its IPO "strike price" of $38 per share.

That forced the chief underwriter, Morgan Stanley, to buy shares of the stock on the open market in order to prop up the price. But investors interpreted that move, too, as a sign of desperation. At the end of the first day of trading, a Friday, the stock still hovered at the IPO price. On the following Monday, Facebook promptly lost more than 10 percent of its value. Joe Saluzzi, co-manager of trading at Themis Trading in Chatham, N.J., summed it up: "It was just a poorly done deal. They pooched it, that's the bottom line here."

One reason for Facebook's shakiness was poor press in the week prior to the IPO. The business press was full of stories asking whether Facebook profiles will now start getting pounded with ads because Facebook has to meet quarterly revenue numbers. Will this huge IPO spawn competitors who will change the game further? Will Facebook then lose the unique relationship it has with its users?

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That's entirely possible. Kerry Tracy, CEO of the Working Media Group, said Facebook is both the cause of and could become the victim of rapid changes in the media environment. "We're going to see more changes in consumer media consumption in the next three to five years than we've seen in the past 25 years," he said. That's why the question that seems to be nagging the market is this: Was May 18 Facebook's high-water mark, or were the problems just speedbumps on the road to Google-sized valuation?

Either way, don't cry for founder Mark Zuckerberg. Even at the depressed stock price of $33 per share, his net worth is at least $20 billion. And according to the research firm Wealth-X, the IPO minted at least 88 UHNW (Ultra-High Net Worth) millionaires, or persons with a net worth of at least $30 million.

Hurting his argument

Jamie Dimon (Mario Tamra/Getty Images)

JPMorgan Chase's CEO Jamie Dimon, once a star on Wall Street, has been in damage control since announcing a hedging strategy gone awry on May 10. Initially he said the losses could be $2 billion. Revisions of that number now have the total losses over $4 billion.

The first exit of a top executive took place on May 14, when Ina Drew, the firm's investment chief, said she would retire. Most analysts say Dimon has done the right thing by not blaming the entire problem on her. He has apologized repeatedly for the trading losses, calling the bank's behavior "stupid" and "sloppy."

Most analysts don't think these trading losses will have a long-term negative impact. The consensus of analysts was for JPMorgan Chase to earn $6 billion before these losses. Even if the losses do top $4 billion, the bank will be solidly in the black. But the saga is far from over. The Wall Street Journal first reported that the FBI has opened an investigation.

In the days after the hastily called May 10 conference call, more than $20 billion in shareholder value vaporized. If history is any guide, look for shareholder lawsuits to follow. Collateral damage in the debacle: deregulation. Dimon has been a vocal opponent of increased regulation. And even though increased regulation would likely not have prevented these losses, the argument for less regulation is tarnished by Dimon's association. -Warren Cole Smith

Warren Cole Smith
Warren Cole Smith

Warren, who lives in Charlotte, N.C., is vice president of WORLD News Group and the host of the radio program Listening In. Follow Warren on Twitter @WarrenColeSmith.

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