It's rare when a story can hold our attention for more than a single day, much less two weeks. Fortunately, with the European Union going through another journey toward meltdown and our own stock markets following the uncertainty, we've had a welcome diversion from reality.
The Facebook (FB) story is now almost at full stride, with the IPO set to price tonight (May 17, 2012), right on schedule. The S-1 was released barely 3 months ago, with the motivation to get shares out to the public at least 6 months prior to year's end, to avoid increased capital gains taxes on newly minted millionaires who will be otherwise bound by lock-ups.
I'm not entirely certain what's more amazing. The fact that the Facebook IPO story has kept our attention for 3 months or the fact that a two letter stock symbol will be trading on the NASDAQ.
For me, I knew that the market was beginning to get a bit "frothy" to borrow a phrase from our dear past Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan, when my son, who had all of a single stock trade under his belt at the time was beginning to digest the Groupon (GRPN) S-1 offering.
With his newly found expertise he freely offered comments and observations demonstrating that he was no fan of its CEO, Andrew Mason, who had a very rocky pre-IPO experience, but had been virtually invisible ever since Groupon came public. Of course, the recently reported beer swigging talk he gave to the troops about needing to act like adults, just prior to adults such as Howard Schultz of Starbucks (SBUX) bolting the Board, may have reinforced the negative image a bit.
Adult behavior is probably a good thing and may be just what's needed at Groupon, given their stock performance to date, notwithstanding a little post-earnings surge this week. On the other hand, given Schultz's recent strange behavior regarding the Starbucks agreement with Green Mountain Coffee Roasters (GMCR) and now his sudden departure, he may not be the adult we all thought.
As the IPO approaches, we're learning many new things about the company and operation, yet none of those things should come as a surprise, nor have a material impact on the offering, as the experience following the S-1 release has already primed and prepared potential investors for the oddities that belie creativity in social media.
The Facebook S-1 revealed lots of previously unknown information, including the fact that Lee Harvey Oswald had not acted alone in the JFK assassination. He had friends and they were poking one another with increased frequency before and on that fateful day.
On a potentially positive note, the news that Facebook shares would become the new U.S. currency has already been supported by Congressman Ron Paul and he is preparing to drop his demand for a return to a gold standard and now plans to drop out of the GOP race, having now achieved his ultimate victory.
Of course as the Greece crisis was simmering and threatening to boil over, it soon became clear why gold was suddenly plummeting in price. In a stroke of genius the European Central Bank decided to begin a liquidation of its gold reserves and began dumping gold on the market in an effort to raise funds to pick up shares in the UPO and in the after-market, if necessary. If the plan works as European economists envision, the ECB will be able to flip its shares at a great profit and then use those funds to rescue the Greek banking system.
The news that Facebook would also release a secondary offering of shares, available through an egalitarian Dutch auction, contingent on Zuckerberg's college girl friend coming back to him on hands and knees gave individual investors some hope to share in the process of wealth creation out of nothing at all.
Of course, the S-1 has to inform potential investors of some liabilities that may come with ownership of shares.
The fact that Callista Gingrich will become everyone's friend after the IPO may be a deal breaker for some.
The revelation that Zuckerberg likes to peer through garden apartment windows while performing virtual poking may be worrisome and could negatively impact future revenues if he is apprehended and convicted.
For many, wondering what Facebook would do with the IPO proceeds was answered as we learned of Zuckerberg's intent to buy up and destroy every available copy of The Social Network" and to then corner the market in amateur soft core pornography that is currently stored on Facebook servers.
The biggest Facebook related news also came about 3 months ago when we learned that the world of Zynga (ZNGA) games accounted for 12% of Facebook's profits, with the remainder essentially coming from ad placements.
The importance of that source of revenue is magnified if you believe the amazing claims of people on Twitter that no one has ever clicked on a Facebook ad. Clearly, those in charge of marketing and media placement at General Motors (GM) believe those accusations, as they announced on Tuesday that they were ending their $10 million ad campaign due to poor performance.
The fact that Ford Motor (F) quickly countered with their glowing assessment of the efficacy of Facebook ads may say much more about GM product appeal than it does about Facebook's advertising model.
Saying that you clicked on a Facebook ad is this generation's version of admitting that you "groove to The Carpenters." It's humiliating. No one would ever admit that, but someone was buying their records. Pizza places don't stock up on anchovies for their health. Someone has to be ordering them to adorn their pies.
I wonder if there's a mechanism or some kind of analytic device for advertisers to realize that no one is clicking on their Facebook ads? I wonder why no one has ever thought of that before as a means to quantitatively assess the efficacy of online ads, instead of going by innuendo and rumor?
From my own experience, having placed ads on Facebook and Google, I much preferred the latter, as the conversion rate was much higher and, as a result, certainly more cost effective. Then again, for the stuff I was trying to deal, Craig's List would have worked just as nicely.
I always found the Facebook ad pricing to be excessive. I also wondered how many were lured to place CPM ads which deliver charges by virtue of an ad's appearance, rather than CPC ones, which require a click to generate an advertising fee?
From Facebook's perspective, there has to be incentive to place those CPM ads as often as they can serve them up. Maybe GM needed to understand the model better and perhaps should not have targeted 13 year old girls living in Paraguay.
As the world will suddenly care about the quality and source of Facebook's earnings and will be putting every metric under the microscope, to me it seems only natural that Facebook will then put the squeeze on Zynga.
After all, where else is Zynga going to go? It's not like there are lots of platforms out there that can play host and deliver the audience in anything resembling the same numbers. For more on my anti-Zynga bias read "Rumorville."
True, there's inter-dependence, but it looks as if Facebook has the upper hand on this one.
So the guys at Zynga better get to the drawing board and start pumping out some new appealing and relevant games.
I'd suggest that they start with "IPO-ville." That's bound to get lots of interest and they may as well strike while they can with this one.
Let gamers get the feel for what it's like to actually get shares in an newly released Facebook issue. Let them get a feel for the wild rides in share price as those that can't get in on the IPO start the mad and aggressive bidding process to get ownership of the 5-10% share float.
Imagine being able to trade those virtual shares and experience virtual capital gains, as well as the agony of seeing paper gains disappear because your greed got in the way of long term security and happiness.
Despite the very recent decision to open up the allocation process a bit, including offering IPO shares through discount brokerage houses and the late decision to increase the offering by 25%, the typical Facebook user is probably much more likely to give it all up, leave everything behind and start a real life farm than he would be likely to get a share of Facebook at the offering price. So at the very least, for God's sake, give them the game.
Oh, but make certain you charge for the right to buy some necessary virtual tools, like a real time virtual stock ticker and a margin account. That leveraged account would be so much fun to have during a simulation of shares dropping 50% after disappointing earnings and guidance and the reported appearance of Mark Zuckerberg wearing a tuxedo while aimlessly sitting on a park bench in Tulsa.
Like everything else good in life, you may as well get to enjoy it in a virtual world. Can you really put a price on that?
But why stop there?
Why not "Zuckerbergville?"
"Be like Zuck" could be the new catchphrase for a new generation. You won't have to jump a mile high in your celebrity Nikes to be like Zuck. That would take effort and maybe even generate a sweat that could short circuit your keyboard.
In Zuckerbergville you can decide how you want to use the IPO proceeds.
Want to diversify your "hoodie" holdings? You're the man. Go for it.
Want to drop a roll of $100's at an Ecstasy club?
That's right. You can. No harm, no foul.
The virtual world has to be the way to go. Don't like the disappointment? Just buy happiness.
For Facebook, many are going to be happy once those shares go public and especially once that lock-up period ends.
For many others, just salivating at the thought of grabbing shares as quickly as they can after the IPO, the dream may end up being much better than the reality.
For those, they'd probably be better served just by paying for and playing their virtual games and feeding the machine.
Welcome to Zuckville.