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In what may be the most anticipated IPO ever, Facebook, will go public this Friday.

Mark Zuckerberg, the hoodie-wearing 28 year-old CEO of the world's largest social network won't be in New York to ring the NASDAQ opening bell.

Instead, he'll be at his company's Menlo Park headquarters ringing it in virtually.

When Facebook goes public on Friday, it will be selling 50.6m shares more than it originally planned to, and at $34 to $38 per share, the company's stock will debut in a higher-than-anticipated price range.

All told, Facebook could raise nearly $15bn in its offering and hit the much-talked-about $100bn IPO valuation it looked as if it might not achieve. So much for a lack of demand for the company's shares, which will trade under the ticker symbol FB.

Facebook's IPO will be the richest ever, and it could even be the most interesting ever. Why? Because for all of the apparent investor demand Facebook and its army of bankers have been able to drum up, there's a general skepticism about the company's future.

Take Bloomberg's investor poll last week, which asked more than 1,200 investors, analysts and traders who subscribe to Bloomberg what they thought of Facebook's valuation. 79% of them thought the company would be overvalued at $96bn. Just 7% believed it was valued correctly at that figure, and a paltry 3% suggested it was undervalued.

An AP-CNBC poll found similar numbers, with half of respondents, which include Facebook users and investors, saying the company would be overvalued at $100bn. Active investors were even more skeptical, with 62% believing the $100bn figure to represent an excessive valuation. As in the Bloomberg poll, just 3% of those surveyed thought Facebook would be undervalued at $100bn.

There may be good reason for this. Over half of the Facebook users in the AP-CNBC poll indicated that they never click on ads or sponsored stories, and another 26% said they "hardly ever" do so. As for the company's potential to turn its vast social network into a commerce juggernaut, over half of those surveyed said they wouldn't trust Facebook for financial transactions (as compared to some 8% who would).

Facebook's future, of course, may rely on mobile, and area it admittedly hasn't yet cracked but where it is focusing a lot of attention. Given the demand for Facebook's stock, it would appear that investors and speculators who have ponied up for shares in the IPO aren't too concerned about mobile being a drag on the company, at least in the short-term.

But the company's mobile problems may not just be related to monetization. Facebook has a reputation as being home to some of Silicon Valley's top engineers, but a post looking at how Facebook's iOS app has been built raises questions about the social network's mobile chops. Interestingly, it's not the first time techies have criticized the social networking giant on technical grounds.

Put all this together and you have what could be better-than-television drama. Right now, there are enough investors are willing to hand Facebook and shareholders billions at a $100bn valuation, but their apparent exuberance is tempered by the fact that so many people are also skeptical about the company's valuation and prospects.

Which group is right? It's worth noting that those putting their money into the IPO may have a wide range of motivations, from short-term speculation to a desire to be involved in one of the most historic IPOs ever, and some of these motivations won't necessarily lend themselves to long-term shareholder loyalty. At the same time, Facebook has -- thus far at least -- managed to overcome its greatest obstacles, which include more than a few high-profile user backlashes.

Which hints at why the Facebook IPO may be so compelling even to those who aren't buying shares: for all of Facebook's undeniable, astonishing success, it appears remarkably -- perhaps almost unbelievably -- vulnerable.

Patricio Robles

Published 15 May, 2012 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

2403 more posts from this author

Comments (2)

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Gareth Dix

Facebook floating is a bad idea... at the moment facebook is a place to interact and it's about the people that are part of that. Fast forward 5 years (if that) and FB's most important stakeholder won't be it's people but it's investors...

...not good for a social network

over 4 years ago

Panos Ladas

Panos Ladas, Digital Marketing Manager at Piece of Cake

FB's most important stakeholder today is not people but investors. FB's most important asset today is people and our data and this probably won't change in the next 5 years.

I strongly believe that the valuation IS inflated by investments banks, brokers and Wall Street as I don't believe that there is so much space in innovation and growth left for FB (I don't mind being surprised on this though!). I believe it's the peak or very close to the peak of the second bubble.

over 4 years ago

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