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商业 - 金融

LinkedIn的泡沫有多大?

Colin Barr 2011年05月19日

你会相信两年来LinkedIn的价值已增长了19倍吗?

 
天空才是极限

    如果你打算买入LinkedIn的IPO股票,你一定相信这一点。LinkedIn预计将于本周招股,每股超过40美元,远高于2009年春季这家职业社交网站自己评估的2.32美元/股。

    不过,LinkedIn在招股书中承认,公司的股价估算规则已至少作过一次调整。这一聪明举动——你要是知道的话,一定会很震惊——自然是让LinkedIn的创始人、管理者等内部人士受益,损害的是那些以更高IPO价格购股的投资者。这听起来有点熟悉吗?

    LinkedIn期望本周能将IPO价格定在42-45美元/股。这样的价格区间意味着去年赚了1,500万美元的LinkedIn估值为41亿美元。简单计算,即可知估值已是利润的267倍。

    由此不难得出结论,这样的估值让LinkedIn和其他社交网站稳居于泡沫之中。但同样有意思的是看到泡沫是如何吹大的,这一点我们可以从LinkedIn最近提交给美国证券交易委员会(Securities and Exchange Commission)的文件中看出。

    这份文件中有一个章节谈到了在过去两年半里,这家总部位于旧金山的公司董事会是如何为授予员工的6.11亿美元股票期权定价的。

    2009年2月LinkedIn授予的股票期权执行价是2.32美元/股。这一年随后的三次股票期权授予也维持了该执行价。LinkedIn表示,影响估值的因素包括“公司业务的持续疲弱”以及“美国和全球经济的不确定性”。

    但随着业务改善、经济复苏,2009年9月LinkedIn将执行价提高到了3.50美元/股,并维持该水平直到2009年底。2010-2011年间公司以营收增长改善、金融市场走强以及IPO可能性上升为由,七次上调股票期权的执行价。

    但即便是在这么多次上调后,据LinkedIn称“截至2011年3月17日,我们普通股的最新估值”仅为22.59美元/股——接近本月最新提交文件中所列预期发行价的一半。

    在解释这两者间巨大差距的过程中,LinkedIn认为至少部分原因是因为确定发行价区域时,使用的可比同业组迥异于公司估值报告中采用的可比同业组。具体来说,用于确定预期发行价区间的可比公司分析更侧重于与LinkedIn增速类似的互联网公司,而不是不具备这些特征的规模较小的企业。

    换言之,LinkedIn现在要么是在1) 采用实际可比公司,而之前则选择了不如自己的公司,以使股票期权的低执行价显得合理;要么是2) 采用已然高估的可比公司,让将被市场接受的泡沫价变得合理。你选择哪一种?公司发言人未立即回复寻求置评的电子邮件。

    无论怎样,事实上所有IPO公司都有一个特点,LinkedIn也不例外:牺牲IPO投资者的利益,让内部人得利。在你接受邀请加入LinkedIn投资俱乐部之前,要小心了。

    You must if you are planning on buying into its initial public offering. LinkedIn is expected to go public this week at a price above $40 a share. That's a far cry from the $2.32 a share the networking-for-professionals outfit valued itself at as recently as the spring of 2009.

    That said, the company admits in offering documents that it has moved the goalposts at least once in estimating what its shares are worth. That nifty move, you'll be shocked to learn, stands to benefit insiders such as LinkedIn's founders and executives at the expense of those buying in at the inflated IPO price. Does any of this sound familiar?

    LinkedIn is looking to sell shares at between $42 and $45 each this week. An IPO that prices in that range would value the company, which made $15 million last year, at $4.1 billion. That's 267 times earnings if you're keeping score at home.

    It is not too hard to make the case that this valuation puts LinkedIn and its social networking peers firmly in bubble territory. But it's interesting all the same to watch the bubble inflate month by month, which LinkedIn allows us to do in a section of its latest filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

    That document contains a section that explains how the San Francisco-based company's board decided to price the $611 million worth of stock options it granted employees in LinkedIn over the past two and a half years.

    When the company granted options in February 2009, for instance, it valued them at $2.32 a share. It maintained that price in three subsequent grants that year. Among the factors in those valuations, LinkedIn said, were "continued weakness in our business" and "uncertainty surrounding the U.S. and global economies."

    But as business picked up and the economy started to recover, the company raised the strike price to $3.50 that September. It maintained that price for the rest of 2009, before citing improving revenue growth, strengthening financial markets and the increasing likelihood of an IPO for seven grant-price increases in 2010 and 2011.

    Even after all those increases, the company said a "contemporaneous valuation of our common stock as of March 17, 2011" put the value at just $22.59 a share -- barely half the expected offering price specified in the latest filing this month.

    The company, eager to explain away that rather large gap, now attributes it at least in part to the use of a substantially different set of comparable companies to determine our price range as compared to the comparable companies utilized in our valuation report. Specifically, the comparable company analysis used to determine our anticipated offering price range focused more on Internet businesses that have similar rates of growth as we do, rather than smaller companies that do not share these characteristics.

    That is to say, LinkedIn is either A) using actual comparable companies now after previously choosing dogs to justify its underpriced stock option grants, or B) using hyped-up comparisons now in order to justify the bubbly market-will-bear price. Which do you prefer? A spokesman didn't immediately return an email seeking comment.

    In any case, there is one characteristic that practically all IPO companies share, and here LinkedIn is no exception: A desire to enrich insiders at the expense of public offering buyers. Be very careful indeed before you accept the invitation to join the LinkedIn investor club.

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