If Facebook ever does make it to an IPO, it looks like Goldman Sachs has acquired the banking equivalent of a golden ticket. The NYT reported late Sunday night that the investment bank has invested $450 million in Facebook at a valuation of $50 billion. Russian investor DST, which pushed Facebook’s value higher with its investments in 2009, added another $50 million to its half-billion stake in the company.
As part of the deal, according to the NYT, Goldman can sell up to $75 million of its stake to DST. At the time of its initial investment in May 2009, DST London partner Alexander Tamas spoke about an IPO as a natural evolution for a company but cautioned about doing it too soon: “There are hundreds of companies that went public way too early but not that many that went public too late. You do it when it’s right for the company and not be rushed into it.” DST bought in at a $10 billion valuation, adjusted from a 2007 deal with Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) that put Facebook at $15 billion.
For now, the public chatter about an IPO is still by outsiders. CEO Mark Zuckerberg continues to dismiss the possibility while there have been reports that some insiders see 2012 as the year. In the interim, Goldman will get the chance to make its own private market in Facebook, according to the NYT, by raising up to $1.5 billion in a scheme devised to allow the startup to keep its financial results private. Companies with more than 499 investors have to report results even if they haven’t gone public.The “special purpose vehicle” described by the NYT would allow Goldman to be a single investor no matter how many of its clients invest in the pool.
That’s a bit of a head scratcher given the SEC scrutiny already on Facebook, Twitter and others for their secondary markets — and the criticism drawn by other bouts of creative accounting. On the one hand, it’s a way to raise the kind of money Facebook needs while avoiding an IPO. On the other, it’s perilously close to a distinction without a difference if hundreds, possibly thousands, of people can invest. It’s almost too clever. (Goldman is also one of the lead bankers in the Demand Media IPO currently in the works. Demand has taken a considerable amount of heat for its own accounting as revealed by the registration filings.)
Either way, the structure suggests an IPO isn’t coming right away.
Where will the money go?: Likely the usual suspects — hiring, development and potential acquisitions. Possibly some liquidity for equity holders.
Value of a valuation: News of this latest valuation — in some ways, a confirmation of the price shares are said to be trading at with Second Market — started another round of “this is worth more than that.” It’s about $45 billion more than the valuation of Groupon that came with its $500 million fundraising last week but the real fun is in listing the big public companies that are now worth less than Facebook. If it were a drinking game, people would be in the stage between giddy and bombed.
It’s one thing to compare market caps to gauge how high Apple (NSDQ: AAPL) and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) have soared. But as long as Facebook stays out of the real stock market, its value hasn’t met the same tests.