Analysis: Facebook ignites Bubble 2.0 chatter

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a news conference where he unveiled a new Facebook messaging system in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at a news conference where he unveiled a new Facebook messaging system in San Francisco, California November 15, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO | Thu Jan 6, 2011 3:56pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Remember Webvan? The online grocer, whose initial public offering in March 2000 was among the most hotly anticipated during the dot-com boom, is now viewed as one of the greatest disasters of the era.

Fast forward 11 years and the feeding frenzy around Facebook and its exponentially expanding valuations are conjuring fears of a Bubble 2.0.

Goldman Sachs bankers have offered their private wealth clients less than a week to decide whether they want to hand over $2 million apiece for a sliver of the Web darling du jour: Facebook at a $50 billion valuation.

For one Goldman client, who was expecting a 100-page financial document on Facebook to be hand-delivered on Thursday, hours before the deadline to invest in the company -- the whole thing "felt a bit like 1999."

Thanks to Goldman Sachs' latest cash infusion of about $450 million with a commitment to raise another $1.5 billion, Facebook has become the lightning rod for debate over whether these new Internet hotshots possess the profit-generating muscles to justify Wall Street's unforgiving expectations.

Twitter and Groupon, an online coupons site considered by some as the fastest growing company in Web history, are also mulling plans for IPOs well ahead of Facebook's potential offering at the end of 2012, investment bankers have told Reuters.

LinkedIn is wasting no time. The social network for professionals, with 85 million members, has hired bankers to go public this year.

For Facebook, which generated about $2 billion in revenue in 2010, according to media reports, the $50 billion valuation means investors have awarded it a multiple of 25 times sales, compared with a nine-times multiple for Google, and's 2.5-times multiple.

Facebook generates $4 per user, compared with Google's $24 per user and Yahoo's $8 per user, according to a recent report by JPMorgan.

All that makes Facebook look expensive in the eyes of investors who measure businesses using traditional financial yardsticks, said Ken Sawyer, the managing director of venture capital firm Saints Capital, which owns shares of Facebook.

Investors will need to look past existing financial returns to focus on the company's business-transforming potential.

"It depends on your view of the world," said Sawyer. "If you believe that the ability to leverage this social network fabric will change the way companies acquire customers, then the valuation looks cheap."

Just as Google's search advertisements revolutionized the way businesses reach customers, Facebook's audience of a half-a-billion members has allowed companies like social gaming service Zynga and online dating service Zoosk to sign-up tens of millions of customers of their own in record time, Sawyer said.

As Facebook devises more ways to make money from that capability, such as by taking a cut of transactions made by other companies on its platform, the opportunity could be substantial, he said.



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