Thursday, February 2, 2012

Face the music

A terrible decision for the company and its founder. A great decision for everybody else. Welcome to the crazy world of private equity.

Facebook needs an IPO like a hole in the head. It doesn't need the money. The only possible use it has for it is to pay off some tax liabilities being triggered by doing an IPO. Most of the money is going to be invested in US government bonds - impeccable logic of raising expensive equity and investing in bonds that yield nothing. The business itself is a cash spewing machine - it doesn't need more cash. On the contrary it doesn't know what to do with th cash already being generated. Actually the risk when too much cash is sloshing around is that the Board will go and make a stupid headline grabbing acquisition.

Mark Zuckerberg doesn't want to do an IPO either. He doesn't need the "valuation" to prove to everybody that he is rich. He's going to lose every autonomy he had in running the business - now he has to pander to the quarterly whims of so called experts called analysts. Being listed is like a curse - the number of regulatory and legal constraints the company will have is enough to make you lose your senses. An independent Board of eminent personalities will sit in judgement over everything Zuckerberg wants to do. Two quarters of missing forecasts and they will have to sack him. Companies that need capital have no other option but to eventually list. The slight problem is that Facebook does not need any more capital.

Its the current shareholders, minus Zuckerberg, who want an IPO badly. They want to encash the fortune they are sitting on. The likes of Aegis Capital, Goldman Sachs, etc. The employees with stock options want to become millionaires. They love the IPO too. The investment bankers who are handling the IPO are beside themselves with excitement - the prospect of fat fees of unimaginable proportions makes you drool doesn't it. Especially when they need to do no work ; after all the shares are going to be bought up even if a donkey handled the issue. The "market" loves it - it will provide employment to a clutch of useless analysts who will write learned treatises on the company without having a clue about it. Day traders will buy and sell everyday, speculating and punting like crazy. We, the wonderful public, can now learn all about its innards and criticise its decisions.

Mark Zuckerberg knows all this. But he probably had no choice - his shareholders must have pushed him and after holding off for so long, had to eventually give in. Facebook can go only one way now - down. What a waste.

PS : Full disclosure - This blogger does not like Facebook. He does not go there.