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Has Facebook Missed Its IPO Window?

Posted By Barry Ritholtz On July 15, 2011 @ 7:25 am In IPOs,Venture Capital,Web/Tech | Comments Disabled

Here is an obvious truth overlooked by too many: Almost all companies die. They have a theoretically infinite lifespan, but eventually, their day in the sun passes, their parts are sold off for scrap, they fade into the dim dusty pages of history.  Sure, Europe has centuries old breweries and specialty foods companies, but they are notable because they are exceptions.

Think back to the original Dow Jones Industrials, filled as it was with Steam and Leather Belt companies, all gone bankrupt nearly a century ago. How many of the original companies in the DJIA are still even in existence?

Microsoft (MSFT) was once technology’s behemoth, the 800 pound gorilla, an unstoppable anti-competitive monopolist. And today? It was a great 20 year run, but its mostly over. They still have the cash horde and engineering chops to create a smash hit like the Kinect [1], and they are a cash cow, but the odds are, their glory days are behind them.

Mister Softee came of age in a different era, the early days of micro-computing. While some companies manage to have a second act — Apple (AAPL) and IBM are notable examples — they too, remain the exception.

Today, tech companies’ lifespans are measured in internet years. Any firms dominance of any given space is likely to cover a much smaller period — way less than a decade in real time. The obvious poster child for this syndrome? My Space (NWS). Even mighty Google (GOOG) is seeing market share growth in search slip as competitors nip at its heels.

All of which leads me to the question of the day: Has Facebook missed its IPO window?

There is a legitimacy, power and capital advantages to being public. But their was a coyness to the dance, perhaps even an arrogance that seems to have crept into Facebook’s management. Meanwhile, deep pocketed competitors like Google and Microsoft, along with other social techs like Twitter, are chasing the social network giant.

And there are signs that Google Plus is a worthy competitor: They quickly amassed 10 million users, and that is while they are in Beta. They are very intelligently integrating Google+ into all of their other offerings. But most fascinating of all, Google’s offering is revealing the flaws, weaknesses and blemishes that Facebook has managed to keep fairly subdued. The well publicized privacy concerns has been the most public problem, but to my eye, G+ looks to have been designed to emphasize what FB does poorly.

Back to our question of the day: I doubt Facebook has missed its IPO window. However, it is likely that G+ has shaved some shave billions off the IPO price. And if the ongoing growth of G+ stays steady or even accelerates, it may slice $10s of billions off the vaunted $100 billion dollar IPO price.

Last, consider this: As a non-public company, Facebook can freely make whatever claim they choose about their business. 750 million? What the hell, sure! But once you are a public firm, one cannot make material misrepresentations to investors. Is that number truly accurate? What is the arc of activity of users? At what point do they become less active, lower time spending users? How many of those registered accounts are very active, somewhat active,  neglected or dead?

As FB dithers going public, some of the buzz following the Social Network movie has attenuated. Do not be surprised if the valuation buzz does so as well . . .

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DISCLOSURE: No positions in any company mentioned.


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[1] Kinect: http://www.xbox.com/en-US/kinect

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