Facebook’s IPO: What does it mean for you?

Barry Ritholtz
Columnist May 16, 2012

Wondering what Facebook’s upcoming initial public offering of stock means for you? The Post’s business editors turned to our investment columnist Barry Ritholtz for some plain talk on the stock sale:

I’m a regular Joe investor. Should I clear out my piggy bank to buy Facebook shares?

Ritholtz is chief investment officer of Ritholtz Wealth Management. He is the author of “Bailout Nation” and runs a finance blog, the Big Picture. View Archive

Chasing the latest hot deal has never been a very successful investment strategy. Rather than “clearing out your piggy bank” for any company, consider instead developing a long-term plan — then stick to it. That way, you are playing the highest probability odds for yourself.

I keep hearing that Facebook has hundreds of millions of users. It seems hard to argue with so many friends. Is that a good reason to buy the stock?

Yes, Facebook does. It’s a shame it doesn’t make much money off of any of them.

The key is the ability to “monetize” users, and so far Facebook has not been particularly good about doing that. As an example, Google gets about $30 per user in annual revenue; movie service Netflix does even better — $148.20 per year.

And Facebook? A mere $5.02 per user per year. The challenge the company faces is bringing that revenue per user number up significantly — without alienating the user base the way ­Myspace did.

Is there any scenario by which I should buy this stock?

If you are a disciplined trader who can buy the IPO at a decent price, then sure! Buy this for a trade (be sure to use a limit, not a market order). Then sell it much higher (always good advice, if easier said than done). Note that this should be done with your speculative/fun money/risk capital/­Vegas cash — not your retirement money or with any account you might actually need some day.

Those of you who are patient long-term investors can wait for the opportunity to buy in at a cheaper capitalization — I’d be a buyer between $30 billion and $40 billion — perhaps during the next financial crisis? If you can do so at a more reasonable valuation, then you are more likely to see a payoff eventually.

Other than that, you are playing the “greater fool” game — buying a very pricey stock and hoping to sell it to some other “greater fool” when it gets even pricier.

If so, should I buy at any price?

Only if you (a) are independently wealthy; (b) can use losses to offset other capital gains; or (c) previously played college football without a helmet.

I read that the initial share price will be $34 to $38. Can I actually log on and buy at that price on Friday morning?

Yes, all you need is a $10 million account at Morgan Stanley (if you are an individual) or $100 million (if you are an institution). If you have an E-Trade account, you might get lucky and get 82 shares at the IPO price — whoop-de-­frickin’-do!

Why do inside investors get to lock in at better prices? Isn’t that unfair?

Yes, it is. The world in general is unfair, and Wall Street even more unfair. You are a big boy now, reading the business section, and it’s time you learned these things.

I saw Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg on TV in a hoodie. He looks like a kid. Should I give this guy my money?

He already has all the hoodies he can buy. You might be better off giving the money to your own kids. Or better yet, go buy a hoodie for yourself. I did — mine is a Tommy Bahama — it cost me about 100 bucks, but I suspect that’s going to be a bargain compared with what some people are going to lose if they mishandle this trade.

Ritholtz is chief executive of FusionIQ, a quantitative research firm. He is the author of “Bailout Nation” and runs a finance blog, The Big Picture. You can follow him on Twitter, where he’s @Ritholtz.

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