Want CNET to notify you of price drops and the latest stories?

Facebook IPO: After the hype, a ho-hummer

One of the most celebrated IPOs in history ended the day below where it started. At Facebook, it's back to business.

Paul Sloan Former Editor
Paul Sloan is editor in chief of CNET News. Before joining CNET, he had been a San Francisco-based correspondent for Fortune magazine, an editor at large for Business 2.0 magazine, and a senior producer for CNN. When his fingers aren't on a keyboard, they're usually on a guitar. Email him here.
Paul Sloan
3 min read
Zuckerberg and gang at Facebook today. Facebook

The hype was too much to live up to.

In the end, after launching the biggest IPO in Internet history, raising $16 billion dollars, Facebook's stock ended the day...barely changed.

After an all-night "hackathon" at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg rang the ceremonial Nasdaq bell from his home turf and the trading started. Almost. There were glitches that stalled things. Financial news anchors vamped breathlessly. And, ultimately, ticker symbol FB traded for a shortened day, just about five hours.

There was no 1999-style pop, but the stock did climb. In fact, it opened at just above $42 dollars -- 11 percent above the offering price of $38 a share. That's how much demand there was. In fact, the trading volume set an all-time record for the Nasdaq. But this demand didn't want to stick around. These weren't bets on Facebook's grand future. These were attempts to make a quick buck.

And when the shares started to fall towards the offering price, it seems the bankers worked like mad to try to "support the deal." In other words, the investment bankers -- who have an agreement to make a market in the stock -- likely began buying shares themselves to keep it afloat.

And it makes sense. The bankers don't want to see it close below the offering price. The stock closed at $38.27 -- below where it opened, and just above the offering price. For the bankers, this was not casual Friday.

It's too late now, of course, but you can bet the bankers are wishing they were able to get this deal done a few months back. Timing is everything, and in this case, theirs was not ideal. Think about it: In the last couple of months, the stock market overall has taken a sharp turn south amid continued worries about Europe and, in particular, Greece.

But the problems that have cast doubt on Facebook are closer to home as well. In April, two months after the company filed to go public, Facebook reported a slowdown in revenue and a drop in profits, highlighting that the days of hyper-growth are coming to an end. Zuckerberg then spent a surprising $1 billion in cash and stock to buy the photo-sharing app Instagram, drawing attention to Facebook's problem in mobile.

(As of today's closing price, incidentally, the Instagram deal, which still needs to clear regulatory hurdles, is approaching $1.2 billion.).

Mobile is where Facebook's growth is, and yet Facebook so far doesn't have a way to make money from mobile users. The company last week amended its S-1 filing with the SEC to underscore the mobile challenge, and Zuckerberg reportedly told potential investors that mobile is his top priority for 2012.

Then there was General Motors, which earlier this week pulled $10 million of ads from Facebook because, it said, they weren't working.

Throughout it all, however, the big investors wanted in, and on Wednesday the company upped the price range of the stock offering. Despite warning, few fund managers wanted to miss out. But plenty seemingly also don't want to be left holding too much.

For the gang at Facebook, however, the party continued. Facebook posted back-slapping photos and videos of the celebrations from the sprawling campus that was once home to Sun Microsystems.

Now, the 8-year-old Facebook has a fat pile of cash and sports a market value that, at almost $110 billion dollars, is more than $15 billion higher than Amazon's. Google, which is in many ways Facebook's biggest competitor, has a market cap of $196 billion. In short, Facebook is now among the big boys -- in almost every sense.

The one place it's falling short is bottom line. Sure, Facebook makes money, and it's on track to do more than $4 billion in revenue for 2012. But Google did 10 times that last year. So Zuck and team, now under Wall Street's watchful and sometimes distracting eye, need to buckle down and start figuring out how to make more money off of their 900 million users.

As I said earlier in the week, Zuckerberg's hardest test awaits.

More immediately, though, the parties will continue through the weekend on the West Coast while the anxiety increases on the East. At least for the bankers fearful of Monday morning.

Watch this: Mark Zuckerberg rings Nasdaq opening bell