At the beginning of last month, social networking giant Facebook filed for a $5 billion initial public offering (IPO) with the Securities Exchange Commission (SEC). Facebook is earmarked to raise about $10 billion from the offering, making it the biggest technology IPO ever. In 2004, Google managed to raise $1.9 billion and was valued at $23 billion. Only three companies have breached the $10 billion barrier: Visa Inc, General Motors and AT&T Wireless.
Facebook is being valued between $75 billion and $100 billion, and if all goes to plan, the stock is expected to commence trading in May. The offering will make many of the internet company’s 3,000 employees Silicon Valley’s newest millionaires.
Chief executive officer and founder Mark Zuckerberg, aged just 27, owns 28% of the company. This IPO will propel him into the multi-billionaire league, making him the fourth-wealthiest man in the United States—remarkable for a guy who started the company in his Harvard University dorm room in 2004. Despite going public, Zuckerberg will retain effective control of Facebook through his holding of 57% of voting shares.
Investment banks will also be laughing all the way to the bank. They stand to make $100 million in fees, which will be a welcome boost for revenues, given the currently tough trading conditions being experienced by banks around the world. Morgan Stanley, the number one underwriter of US IPOs for three consecutive years, will lead the offering and will share the spoils with Wall Street’s usual suspects: Goldman Sachs; JP Morgan; Bank of America; Merrill Lynch and Barclays Capital.
Facebook boasts more than 845 million active subscribers, with over 10% of the global population using the platform to chat, play games and swap 250 million pictures daily. In 2011, the company reported revenues of $3.7 billion, 85% of which was generated from advertising. In the same year, the company reported profits of $1 billion. In a letter that accompanied the filing to the SEC, Zuckerberg said: “There is a huge need and a huge opportunity to get everyone in the world connected, to give everyone a voice and to help transform society for the future.”
The Arab Spring, which started in 2011, is testament to the transformation Zuckerberg talks about. Protests were co-ordinated through Facebook and social networking sites.
In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, many African leaders and governments are only too well aware of the power that the electorate wields through social media. In fact, China blocked Facebook in 2009 following riots in Xinjiang which the authorities attributed to Facebook.
African governments will be wary of social unrest following the Arab Spring and their broken promises to their electorates. However, African governments are unlikely to go the China route and block Facebook and other social networking sites.
South Africa’s president, Jacob Zuma, recently opened a Facebook page to allow voters to communicate with him directly to voice service delivery concerns, which were taken into account during the state of the nation address last month. This was a welcome development and hopefully, many more African leaders will follow suit.
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