Facebook status: down, but far from out

Reasons to be upbeat.

The fever pitch of speculation building up to Facebook’s IPO less than a week ago has been replaced by doomsayers revelling in the 11 per cent price slump since Friday’s launch. Should Mark Zuckerberg and the rest of Facebook’s newly minted billionaire founders, and almost 1,000 paper millionaire employees, be concerned by the drop since listing? No, there are several reasons to be upbeat.

The doomsayers have loved the downward stock slide. Stories of the NASDAQ’s technology wobbles and Morgan Stanley having to keep the stock price up soon after its listing are what you’d expect. People love the fact that the bigger they are, the harder they fall.

But there are several reasons for Facebook’s stockholders to take heart.

Firstly, let’s not forget Facebook’s $38 listing price was well above its initial expectations. Only weeks before the May 18 IPO, it was forecast to sell 337.4 million shares for between $28 and $35 per share, raising between $9 bn and $12 bn.

Five days before the list date, it raised the total number of shares to 421.2 m and ended up listing at this much higher level – netting $16bn and giving it a market capitalisation of about $104bn at listing.

To put this into context, Google offered 19m shares in its 2004 IPO, listing at $85 per share. It raised $1.67bn on market capitalisation of US$23 bn.

This gave Google the war chest it needed to launch a vast slew of mergers and acquisitions in the following years, including the high-profile purchase of YouTube in 2007.

Facebook’s IPO has raised 10 times Google’s amount from the sale, with market capitalisation three times Google’s – giving a serious steroid boost to its M&A budget. Facebook’s pre-IPO purchase of Instagram will be the first of many, helping the world’s most well-known social networking site, cement its market-leading position.

Interesting research from boutique researcher WealthInsight, The Facebook Elite, suggests that even if Facebook’s IPO may be overpriced, it does not mean that the company is not highly valuable.

Facebook’s earnings were $972m for the 12 months up until March 2012. Off revenue of $4.0bn, this represents a high profit margin of 24 per cent, putting it in line with the likes of Apple (30 per cent) and Google (27 per cent).

Facebook also makes more money from advertising than any other website and accounts for 28 per cent of display ads seen online. As more and more advertising moves online, Facebook’s revenues will almost certainly increase. Facebook had 901 million monthly active users (MAUs) and an average of 526 million daily active users as of 31 March 2012, an increase of 33 per cent and 41 per cent, respectively, compared to March, 2011. At the same time, Facebook’s 60 per cent penetration rate of internet users in the US and 45 per cent penetration rate of the world’s 2 billion internet users, together suggest that Facebook’s user base still has significant room for growth.

Facebook’s stock price will continue to attract attention, and will no doubt suffer periodic dips. Google suffered a big drop in late 2008, but now sells for more than $600. Facebook’s stocks may have dipped, but they are likely to rise far further.

Nicholas Moody is the editor of Private Banker International at VRL Financial News. He has written more about Facebook's recent venture here.

Photograph: Getty Images
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Will Euroscepticism prove an unbeatable advantage in the Conservative leadership race?

Conservative members who are eager for Brexit are still searching for a heavyweight champion - and they could yet inherit the earth.

Put your money on Liam Fox? The former Defence Secretary has been given a boost by the news that ConservativeHome’s rolling survey of party members preferences for the next Conservative leader. Jeremy Wilson at BusinessInsider and James Millar at the Sunday Post have both tipped Fox for the top job.

Are they right? The expectation among Conservative MPs is that there will be several candidates from the Tory right: Dominic Raab, Priti Patel and potentially Owen Paterson could all be candidates, while Boris Johnson, in the words of one: “rides both horses – is he the candidate of the left, of the right, or both?”

MPs will whittle down the field of candidates to a top two, who will then be voted on by the membership.  (As Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, notes in his interview with my colleague George Eaton, Conservative MPs could choose to offer a wider field if they so desired, but would be unlikely to surrender more power to party activists.)

The extreme likelihood is that that contest will be between two candidates: George Osborne and not-George Osborne.  “We know that the Chancellor has a bye to the final,” one minister observes, “But once you’re in the final – well, then it’s anyone’s game.”

Could “not-George Osborne” be Liam Fox? Well, the difficulty, as one MP observes, is we don’t really know what the Conservative leadership election is about:

“We don’t even know what the questions are to which the candidates will attempt to present themselves as the answer. Usually, that question would be: who can win us the election? But now that Labour have Corbyn, that question is taken care of.”

So what’s the question that MPs will be asking? We simply don’t know – and it may be that they come to a very different conclusion to their members, just as in 2001, when Ken Clarke won among MPs – before being defeated in a landslide by Conservative activists.

Much depends not only on the outcome of the European referendum, but also on its conduct. If the contest is particularly bruising, it may be that MPs are looking for a candidate who will “heal and settle”, in the words of one. That would disadvantage Fox, who will likely be a combative presence in the European referendum, and could benefit Boris Johnson, who, as one MP put it, “rides both horses” and will be less intimately linked with the referendum and its outcome than Osborne.

But equally, it could be that Euroscepticism proves to be a less powerful card than we currently expect. Ignoring the not inconsiderable organisational hurdles that have to be cleared to beat Theresa May, Boris Johnson, and potentially any or all of the “next generation” of Sajid Javid, Nicky Morgan or Stephen Crabb, we simply don’t know what the reaction of Conservative members to the In-Out referendum will be.

Firstly, there’s a non-trivial possibility that Leave could still win, despite its difficulties at centre-forward. The incentive to “reward” an Outer will be smaller. But if Britain votes to Remain – and if that vote is seen by Conservative members as the result of “dirty tricks” by the Conservative leadership – it could be that many members, far from sticking around for another three to four years to vote in the election, simply decide to leave. The last time that Cameron went against the dearest instincts of many of his party grassroots, the result was victory for the Prime Minister – and an activist base that, as the result of defections to Ukip and cancelled membership fees, is more socially liberal and more sympathetic to Cameron than it was before. Don’t forget that, for all the worry about “entryism” in the Labour leadership, it was “exitism” – of Labour members who supported David Miliband and liked the New Labour years  - that shifted that party towards Jeremy Corbyn.

It could be that if – as Brady predicts in this week’s New Statesman – the final two is an Inner and an Outer, the Eurosceptic candidate finds that the members who might have backed them are simply no longer around.

It comes back to the biggest known unknown in the race to succeed Cameron: Conservative members. For the first time in British political history, a Prime Minister will be chosen, not by MPs with an electoral mandate of their own or by voters at a general election but by an entirelyself-selecting group: party members. And we simply don't know enough about what they feel - yet. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.