The fact that the analyst worked for Morgan Stanley, which was the lead bank arranging for the sale of the company’s stock, added credibility to his analysis. At just about the same time, other analysts working for banks affiliated with the sale similarly reduced their earnings estimates.
The investors who received and took note of these warnings may have saved lots of money: As many investors now know all too well, the value of Facebook stock rose briefly on its first day and has since plunged 16 percent from its original price.
Now federal regulators, shareholder attorneys and angry investors are looking askance at the hype — and company disclosures — that attended the lead-up to last week’s ballyhooed Facebook stock sale.
They want to know whether the company and the banks that arranged the sale pulled one over on ordinary investors, against whom the odds are often stacked in initial public offerings.
“The true facts at the time of the [sale] were that Facebook was then experiencing a severe and pronounced reduction in revenue growth,” according to a lawsuit filed Wednesday against the company, its directors, Morgan Stanley and other banks affiliated with the sale.
(Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald E. Graham is on the board of Facebook and is named in the lawsuit.)
A raft of complex regulations attempt to ensure that the information public companies give out to investors is not only true but is distributed in a way that does not favor big institutional investors over so-called retail investors.
The Securities and Exchange Commission has confirmed that it is looking at the Facebook IPO, although it has not publicly described its focus.
Massachusetts regulator William Francis Galvin said his office has subpoenaed Morgan Stanley “in connection with discussions by their analyst with certain institutional investors about the revenue prospects for Facebook” before the IPO.
The Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, an industry watchdog, also has jurisdiction. The organization’s chairman and chief executive, Richard G. Ketchum, told Reuters it would be “a matter of regulatory concern” if Morgan Stanley shared negative news with institutional investors before the IPO.
But FINRA spokeswoman Michelle Ong said by e-mail that the matter has been “blown out of proportion” and that Ketchum “was not even saying that we are planning to look at it.”
“Until we unwind the facts and circumstances surrounding this situation, it is inappropriate to speculate about what potential violations may have occurred,” Ong said.
Companies such as Facebook are prohibited from selectively disclosing important information to favored analysts or investors.