DUBAI (Reuters) - Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal says he will not sell any of his shares in microblogging site Twitter Inc when it goes public, and expects the firm’s IPO to hit the market later this year or in early 2014.
The prince, a nephew of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah and owner of international investment firm Kingdom Holding, invested $300 million in the social media giant in late 2011.
“Clearly the speed they’re moving with shows that they would like to IPO sooner than later. I believe it will happen either this year or early next year,” Alwaleed told Reuters in a telephone interview on Sunday.
“Twitter is a very strategic investment for us. We believe that it is just beginning to touch the surface. We have invested $300 million in the company. We will be selling zero, nothing, at the IPO.” He did not say whether he might buy new shares in the offer.
Alwaleed is a closely watched figure in international markets because of successful investments through Kingdom Holding in companies such as Citigroup and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp.
Twitter has filed for an initial public offer of shares with U.S. regulators, the company said on Thursday, taking a first step toward what would be Silicon Valley’s most anticipated debut since Facebook Inc’s listing last year.
“With the 300 million customers they have and half a billion tweets a day, the growth potential is tremendous,” Alwaleed said. He said Chief Executive Dick Costolo was “very knowledgeable, very much trustworthy”.
The market expects the company’s value once listed to be more than $10 billion; Alwaleed sees potential for a much higher valuation.
“We hear that the company is valued at $14 billion-$15 billion but there have been trades above this valuation. We believe it might be worth more than that.”
Facebook’s rocky 2012 debut and subsequent share-price plunge chilled the consumer-dotcom IPO market for a year. The stock clawed its way back to its $38 IPO price in July, however, and is now at a record high after touching $45 this week.
Alwaleed wouldn’t comment on whether Twitter would choose to list on the New York Stock Exchange in order to avoid Facebook’s disappointing experience on Nasdaq.
But the prince said: ”In my discussion with Mr Costolo and the management of Twitter, I cautioned them to be very careful and not to repeat the mistakes of Facebook.
“The lessons are not to brag too much, don’t be greedy - I mean price it right and be realistic.”
He added, “There could be a good surprise for the market, where Twitter revenues coming from mobile compared to fixed devices are way ahead of what Facebook came with at the time of the IPO.”
By transmitting news and opinion, social media such as Twitter played a big role in mass protests that have led to the ousting of Arab rulers in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen since 2011.
Saudi Arabia, where Twitter use has been growing rapidly, has spent billions of dollars on welfare schemes to contain discontent and avoid unrest.
Alwaleed said on Sunday, “There is no doubt that Twitter accelerated the process of disseminating news. It has to remain an open forum for everyone.”
He added, “I‘m totally against anybody who tries to control or censor Twitter or any other social media, even if it is governments. It’s a losing war.”
Editing by Andrew Torchia/Ruth Pitchford