Facebook shareholders express anger, confusion about botched IPO

Chris LeBarton jumped at the chance to get in on Facebook’s initial public offering. The Potomac investor and a group of friends pooled $50,000 to purchase $35 pre-offering shares through a hedge fund connection.

He said he knew it was a gamble, but he never imagined he would get cheated. After Facebook’s stock closed almost break-even its first day of trading and then fell for a few days before recovering modestly, LeBarton and his friends are looking at a paper loss of 6 percent.

“I went into this not even thinking about that possibility,” he said. “The big guys made out, and it seems the little guys got burned.”

A week after Facebook shares made their debut, the details of what went wrong with the sale are still unclear. Facebook is under fire for misjudging demand and pricing the stock too aggressively. Morgan Stanley, the lead IPO underwriter, has been accused of lowering its price estimates at the last minute but only sharing the information with select clients. Technical glitches on the Nasdaq exchange confused investors, who didn’t know the status of their bids.

On Thursday, during a conference call with its brokers, Morgan Stanley said it would review its orders from the stock’s opening day and compensate investors who overpaid, the Associated Press reported. But the firm hasn’t addressed the more disturbing charge that it withheld information from the public that it may have been required to reveal under U.S. securities law.

The outrage from individual shareholders has manifested itself in numerous lawsuits. One class-action suit filed in U.S. District Court in New York claims that Facebook’s IPO documents contained untrue statements and omitted important facts, such as a “severe reduction in revenue growth” that Facebook was experiencing at the time of the offering. Another lawsuit, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court in California, holds Facebook and its underwriters liable, claiming that Facebook’s stock-sale documents misled investors.

A third lawsuit targets Nasdaq. Filed by Maryland resident Phillip Goldberg, it seeks to recover losses suffered because of Nasdaq’s technical glitches, which kept some investors from knowing when or if their bids went through and at what price.

The technical problems are what concerned Matt Soleyn, a project manager in Madison, Wis. Soleyn said he decided to invest in Facebook because he had faith in its product.

“I’ve seen how large of a reach it has,” said Soleyn. “It has become a ubiquitous tool to keep in touch. Everyone uses it.”

But when he tried to get shares from his broker, he was told he needed at least a quarter of a million dollars to get in before the initial public offering. So he waited until the stock hit the market last Friday. He tried to place an order the minute trading began, but his transaction got hung up.

“Where people got cheated was on exchanges,” said Soleyn, who eventually bought 50 shares at $42.05 apiece. “Some of those bids never got executed; people were not sure of what happened.” He said he’ll keep his shares for a while to see how they do, but he’s concerned the exchanges might not be able to handle another high-volume day.

“I think people have lost confidence and may be staying out of [future high-profile trades] because they don’t have confidence that they can put their money back in there,” he said.

Some investors are convinced the stock will be worth the trouble in the long run. For Rajesh Gooty, a Facebook investor who lives in Lansdowne, Va., the company will be a long-term investment. Gooty bought his Facebook shares at $39 and said he isn’t worried about the stock’s fall since then. He plans to hold on to his shares after having lost out on tech gains in the past.

He said he didn’t have the “guts to hold on to Google when it crossed $200. Same with Apple; I cashed out. My strategy for Facebook is not to worry or read the news. This is a long-term hold.”

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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