Despite all the hype leading up to Facebook’s IPO, the circumstances abruptly changed after the company’s public debut. The stock was priced at $38 per share, which valued the company at $104 billion. At this rate, Facebook became the third largest public offering in the history of the United States, behind General Motors and Visa.
When the trading began on May 18, however, the problems started to surface. The company’s stock rose to $45 per share for a short time and then dropped back down to close at $38. 27, just a few cents above its opening price. Investors were disappointed and confused by the day’s events, but they quickly became angry as new details began to emerge.
Based on numerous reports, Facebook’s underwriters lowered their earnings estimates during the company’s public road show. As the story goes, Facebook apparently tipped them off that its second quarter revenues were not going to be as high as it had originally expected. These underwriters, namely Morgan Stanley, JP Morgan, and Goldman Sachs, then only told a limited number of investors that they were cutting their estimates for Facebook’s Q2 and the full year.
Former Wall Street analyst Henry Blodget, who is now the Editor-in-Chief of Business Insider, calls this practice of verbally conveying estimates to selected investors “grossly unfair.” In a post on his site, he points out that the SEC rules should change to ensure that all investors have access to the underwriters’ estimates.
“This is an absurd and unfair practice. The estimates themselves are material information--the consensus of smart, well-trained analysts who have worked with the company's management to develop realistic forecasts. Most investors don't even know that these estimates exist, let alone that they're whispered verbally to only a handful of big investors. All potential investors should have easy access to these estimates, as well as to any logic underlying them. The SEC needs to change the rules here.”
Facebook’s stock price dropped after this information was brought to light, and it continues to fall as more details come out. The blame has been pointed in several different directions including toward Morgan Stanley, Nasdaq, Facebook, and even toward David Ebersman, Facebook’s CFO.
Francis Gaskins, the President of IPODesktop, however, pins the blame on someone else. In a recent interview with us, he told us that Mark Zuckerberg is responsible for the company’s IPO disaster, calling the young CEO an “egomaniac.”
“If you want to play the blame game… Mark Zuckerberg himself bears the brunt of it,” he said.
Gaskins has been skeptical of Facebook’s IPO from the beginning. When Facebook filed its S-1 with the SEC earlier this year, he spoke with us and said that the company’s valuation was way too high based on the fact that its past earnings were flat.
“He [Mark Zuckerberg] was talking a year ago about a $100 billion market valuation, and his financial numbers were a lot lower than he thought,” said Gaskins. “[But] he was gonna have that evaluation come hell or high water.”
According to Gaskins, Zuckerberg allowed the company to put out projections that were too high in order to justify the $100 billion valuation. He believes this not only puts him at blame, but that it also raises questions about his leadership.
“Zuckerberg to me, instead of being a hero, he’s a control freak that doesn’t have any self-confidence,” said Gaskins. “If he had self-confidence, he wouldn’t have really made an effort to have 55 percent voting control… that means he’s never ever accountable.”
“After the disaster of an IPO, he left on a honeymoon - catch me if you can.”
“[If] they didn’t know what was happening in the second quarter,” he continued,” how can they possibly know what’s happening in the third quarter, or even the fourth quarter?”
While it is possible that Zuckerberg bears responsibility, there are other issues that could hold some of the fault as well. Analysts have credited various events, including Facebook issuing more shares of stock shortly before it went public and GM pulling its paid advertising from the platform, to the chaos that is continuing to surround the IPO. Another factor that’s been labeled as a red flag for Facebook is its mobile initiative.
Although trends show mobile usage is only going to increase, the company has not clearly defined how it will succeed in the area. The company openly admitted in its S-1 filing that its monetization efforts for mobile were yet to be proven:
“Growth in use of Facebook through our mobile products, where our ability to monetize is unproven, as a substitute for use on personal computers may negatively affect our revenue and financial results.”
While these issues and others were seemingly overlooked before May 18, it appears that they are now becoming realized. Now, Facebook is finding itself facing an angry Wall Street, a string of legal trouble, and a damaged reputation, some of which is illustrated in this video:
Unlike Blodget, Gaskins doesn’t believe that any rules need to change going forward. He calls what the underwriters did “normal business“ pointing out that they’re allowed to talk about the estimates. To the fact that the new research wasn’t published, he said, “There may be some harm but no foul.”
Incidentally, Congress has said that it plans to investigate the proceedings, but there has been no official word on what specific measures it may take.
Gaskins did say that he thinks underwriters will look more carefully at estimates in regards to future IPOs. He believes underwriters will be much more analytical to avoid a repeat of the Facebook fiasco.
There are reports predicting that Facebook will switch from Nasdaq to the NYSE, given its rocky start at its public debut. While it is understandable that Facebook would want a clean slate, Gaskins told us that the company “can’t wipe out history.”
These rumors and even those of Facebook building its own smartphone and planning to acquire Opera do not seem to be having a positive impact on the company’s stock price. At the close of business Tuesday, the stock price was $28.84, after dropping steadily all day.
“You can’t trust them anymore based on them missing estimates this close,” said Gaskins. “I think they’ll have a second quarter that won’t please investors, I think they’ll have a third quarter that won’t please investors, [and] I think the price will go down quite a bit.”