Facebook prices at top of range in landmark IPO

Thu May 17, 2012 5:51pm EDT
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By Olivia Oran and Alistair Barr

NEW YORK/SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc priced its initial public offering at the top of its target range to raise more than $16 billion, as strong demand, particularly from retail investors, fuels anticipation of a big pop in the stock when it begins trading Friday on the Nasdaq.

Predictions of how much the stock will rise on its first day of trade vary greatly -- some experts said the high IPO price and increased float could limit gains to 10 percent to 20 percent, while others said anything short of a 50 percent jump would be disappointing given the hype.

"I think anything over 50 percent will be considered a successful offering -- anything under that would be underwhelming," said Jim Krapfel, analyst at Morningstar. "A lot of retail investors are not concerned about valuation. That's what is going to drive the first day pop."

Facebook is selling a 15 percent stake priced at $38 a share, giving the world's largest online social network a valuation of $104 billion.

That puts the eight-year-old company, founded in a Harvard dorm room by Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, a valuation akin to that of Amazon.com Inc and exceeding that of Hewlett-Packard Co and Dell Inc combined.

In an event that many say is as much a cultural phenomenon as it is a business story, Facebook will make its Wall Street debut at around 11 a.m. on Friday on the Nasdaq.

Investor enthusiasm for Facebook shares comes despite questions about the company's long-term money-making capabilities, particularly after it reported a quarter-to-quarter revenue slide in April.

"Hundreds of millions of people are extremely passionate about this product. A lot of those people want to be a part of this event, of this company that they have an affinity for. That's creating a level of excitement for the stock that you don't normally see," said Steve Weinstein, an analyst with ITG Research.   Continued...

A Facebook application logo is pictured on a mobile phone in this photo illustration taken in Lavigny May 16, 2012. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud