Facebook IPO Valuation Could Top $100 Billion: Sources

Facebook, the social-networking site that is one of the most closely-watched private companies in the world, is likely to go public by the first quarter of 2012, say people familiar with the matter, at a valuation that could be pegged at north of $100 billion.

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The company’s IPO, were it to happen by next spring, would probably be triggered by a section of the 1934 Securities and Exchange Act known as “the 500 rule,” these people say.

Essentially, the rule mandates that once a private company has more than 500 investors, it must begin releasing quarterly financial information to the Securities and Exchange Commission, just as public companies do.

Facebook, which has indicated that it expects to cross the 500-investor threshold this year, would probably want to launch a formal IPO in advance of a public-company reporting obligation that would kick in next April, say people familiar with the matter, making a first-quarter offering a likelihood.

Early Monday, a Facebook spokesman declined to comment on the timing or details of an IPO. But at a conference late last month, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg called a Facebook IPO “inevitable,” describing it as “the next thing that happens.”

Another factor motivating the likely new issue, say the people familiar with the matter, is the desire to increase employee compensation. Early last year, Facebook put curbs on employees’ ability to sell their company shares privately to other investors—a move that may now be prompting employees to quit Facebook in order to be able to monetize their shares.

Were the company to go public, however, employees would be able to sell their stock on the open market at various times during the year, allowing them to cash in on their holdings.

Back in January, when Goldman Sachs and other private investors put $1.5 billion into Facebook, the company was valued at a reported $50 billion.

More recently, reports of private-market transactions have suggested a far higher valuation in the $85 billion range.

Come New Year’s, say the people familiar with the matter, they expect Facebook—which has more than 600 million users and is growing fast—to be worth $100 billion or more.

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