Facebook fervor fierce ahead of IPO

Facebook frenzy is spreading ahead of the company's big-time stock market debut, with anything from Mark Zuckerberg's hoodie to the billion-dollar buy of Instagram sparking controversy.

Speculation about the promise or pitfalls of owning a piece of the world's leading social network was so feverish by the weekend that one report contended there was too much demand for the stock while another said it was lacking.

Facebook, already assured of becoming one of the most valuable US firms when it goes public, has been on an intense marketing drive ahead of its expected trading launch on the tech-heavy Nasdaq on May 18.

In a filing with the US Securities and Exchange Commission, Facebook set a price range of $28 to $35 for its shares, which would value the firm at between $70 billion and $87.5 billion.

When Google went public in 2004, its valuation was $23 billion, and now it has a market value of $200 billion.

Some are offended by the price set for Facebook, a site founded by Zuckerberg just eight years ago from his Harvard dorm room. Still only 27, he will retain 57.3 percent of the voting power of the shares.

Others expected better -- some analysts predicted a price of $44 a share in the short term, and a much higher figure in the long term.

At the midpoint of the price range, the sale of 337 million shares would generate $10.6 billion, making Facebook's offering the largest IPO of a tech firm.

Despite the intense spotlight on Facebook coffers swelling with a stock sale, analysts agree that for most of the social network's more than 900 million users, the focus will be on changes to the service -- not ownership of the firm.

"What they hope, I think, is that Facebook will continue to innovate and make the service more interesting and more relevant," said Creative Strategies principal analyst Tim Bajarin.

"Facebook is not extremely specific on what they will do with the money."

The IPO also means wealth will be heaped on longtime employees compensated with stock at the startup launched in 2004.

"You give a group of people in a company a ton of money, you get some weird behavior," said independent Silicon Valley analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group.

"Facebook itself is going to change, and not necessarily for the better."

Workers made rich with company stock have been known to leave for new endeavors or to follow dreams. Sudden wealth can change people's attitudes or inspire spending binges, Enderle noted.

"A lot of stuff unrelated to work happens that can lead to turmoil," Enderle said. "It is going to be an interesting few months. Already Zuckerberg is acting outside the envelope."

Zuckerberg was bashed by some analysts for wearing his trademark hoodie and jeans to pre-IPO roadshow meetings with Wall Street types accustomed to business attire.

"Showing up in front of suited financial analysts in a hoodie is not the smartest thing," Enderle said. "It just pisses off people who can wreck your IPO."

Zuckerberg was also second-guessed for orchestrating a billion-dollar stock-and-cash deal to buy the startup behind hot smartphone photo-sharing application Instagram.

The price tag evidently caught the attention of the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which is reported to be reviewing the takeover. Facebook declined to comment regarding an FTC probe of the Instagram deal.

Companies going public usually wait until takeovers are completed to spare investors uncertainty.

Becoming a publicly traded company could result in Zuckerberg being more constrained because of accountability to stockholders and regulators, according to Bajarin.

"To be fair, once you go public you have fiduciary responsibilities and are in a different scenario," Bajarin said. "(Zuckerberg) could never do that Instagram deal for a billion dollars like that after an IPO."

Facebook has kept busy in the weeks leading up to the IPO.

The social network unveiled an online center for smartphone applications synched to Facebook and bought mobile discovery startup Glancee. Microsoft announced it is weaving feedback from Facebook friends into personalized Bing search results.

Facebook confirmed Friday it was creeping into the territory of Dropbox, Google and others with the roll-out of a service that lets people store files in the Internet "cloud" for access from a variety of devices.

"Facebook wants to create an open social network that allows them to get more aggressive in the way they connect people," Bajarin said.

"Mark wants Facebook connected to all kinds of other sites, and this new model can be backed with more cash."

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