昨天，就在公司上市前一分钟，笔者了解到，Facebook几个最大的风险投资机构纷纷决定增加出售股票的比例。周三公布的资料显示，可用于IPO的股份数量从3.374亿股增加到4.312亿股，增加了25%。其中老虎环球基金（Tiger Global Management）从最初出售300万股增加到2,300万股，而高盛（Goldman Sachs）则从出售1,320万股增加到2,870万股，成为变化最大的两家著名风险投资机构。Facebook的早期投资者不仅谋求套现，而且希望立刻脱身。这可不是什么好消息。
Facebook will probably price today at the top of its offer range at $38 a share. (Update: That's exactly what happened.) That would value the company at around $104 billion – roughly half the current value of its biggest rival in the online ad space, Google. While a lofty and unjustifiably high valuation for the social media giant had been expected given its position in popular culture, a $104 billion valuation is borderline bonkers. The company's future earnings potential is shaky and its only real product appears to be close to maturity. Facebook's IPO isn't about raising money to nurture an amazing product -- it's about cashing out at the peak. Investors should "like" with caution.
Facebook's offering documents and its 30-minute "feel-good" video presentation is heavy on the present and light on the future. In the video, for example, the section labeled "The Future" lasts only a couple of minutes and the company is vague about how they plan to grow it profitably. They rightly say that monetizing its mobile platform is the key to Facebook's growth, but also note that they have pretty much no idea what to do about it except throw a bunch of money at the problem and hope something great happens.
A good chunk of that money will come from the $18.4 billion in proceeds Facebook could raise in the IPO on Friday, provided that the whole overallotment is sold. But the majority of the cash raised won't be going to Facebook -- it goes to its early venture investors who have been begging and pleading with Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, to take the company public for years now.
Just yesterday, at what is basically the last minute for this offering, we learned that some of Facebook's biggest venture investors were putting up more of their shares for sale than originally planned. The updated filing on Wednesday saw the number of shares available for the IPO jump from 337.4 million to 431.2 million, a nearly 25% increase. The two most notable shifts came from Tiger Global Management, which went from selling 3 million shares to 23 million shares, and Goldman Sachs (GS), which went from selling 13.2 million to 28.7 million. These early investors in Facebook don't just want to cash out, they want to run away. That's not a good sign.
But who could blame them? At such a high valuation they would be crazy not to get out now. If Facebook ends up valued at $104 billion, it would trade at 28 times its 2011 revenue and 104 times earnings. That implies that it will see parabolic growth in earnings in the near future. That seems highly unlikely.
For comparison, let's look at Google (GOOG), which is currently the king of internet advertising and probably Facebook's biggest competitor. When it went public in 2004, Google was valued at 16 times its trailing revenue and 218 times its trailing earnings. At its implied valuation of 104 times earnings, that means investors today should believe that Facebook will grow at roughly half the rate that Google did when it first came out of the gates to justify its valuation. Google currently trades at 18 times earnings, which implies that Facebook should have roughly five times the growth potential than Google will have in the near future.