Goldfacebookman: bubblenomics ahoy!

Paul Raven @ 06-01-2011

So, Goldman Sachs is investing in Facebook. Lots of furore in the media: Facebook’s worth US$50billion, you know! Well, given recent events, I’m not sure I’d trust Goldman Sachs to accurately value anything other than their own scaly skin, but there you go. My cynicism is largely uninformed and instinctive, but smarter folk than I are looking beyond the gloss:

… you can look at the economics and note that Goldmans is buying under 1% of an illiquid stock, thus valuing the whole 100% at $50bn, and that to justify such a valuation at maturity (at say c 5x revenue valuation, like Google) would imply revenues of $10billion. Given that it already claims c 500m users (1/8th of the world’s online population, because as we know, there are no false accounts on Facebook) it is hard to believe much more than a doubling of users, so say 1 billion users. So, $10 bn over 1 bn users is $10 per user per annum (vs c $4 today), or say $1 / month. Sounds possible, except you have to remember that many users hardly use the system, and social media ads tend to have CPM in the fractions of pennies, so you are having to believe they can ship hundreds of thousands of Ads to each person each month, or can sell online goods – ie demi-freemium funding – but that typically only attracts c 5% of users, so you are looking at $20 per month per paying instead.

My take – Don is right, the good assets are expensive, but $50bn is a valuation based on a microstake. Goldman Sachs are not fools, but this is basic bubblenomics – and bubbles are built on the Bigger Fool Theory, ie there will be bigger fools who will buy these shares from Goldman. When you see private Facebook shares being sold to the “Man on the Street” its time to run for the hills.

Here’s the kicker:

The one sure thing you can tell from this is that Facebook clearly can’t self fund itself enough for what it needs, even on $2bn turnover a year.

And here rephrased by Ian Betteridge:

A web site which has 500 million users, 1/8th of the entire population of the Internet, doesn’t have a business model capable of supporting itself.

Ouch. More interesting still is that Goldman are inventing some brand new voodoo finance stunts specifically for this gig:

What Goldman Sachs is proposing to do is create a $1.5 billion, so-called “special-purpose vehicle” — a term that could only have been conjured on Wall Street — that would allow its high-net-worth clients to invest in Facebook.

The participants in Goldman’s Facebook “special-purpose vehicle” would not be considered Facebook owners “of record,” but rather “beneficial” owners. In other words, for the purposes of the Securities Exchange Act, Goldman’s Facebook “special-purpose vehicle” would constitute one owner “of record,” no matter how many Goldman clients participate.

Thus, it would appear that Goldman Sachs and Facebook are attempting to avoid SEC disclosure rules and allow Facebook to remain private for as long as possible, but still make it easy for Goldman’s rich clients to invest in the company.

The SEC is apparently keeping an eye on things, but you’ll forgive me, I hope, for not taking that as an assurance that some seriously shady shit won’t go down anyway. Are our memories really so short? Ooooh, look – shiny!