A Market Place for Facebook?

Don't look now, but shutterbug-happy coed Facebook may be ready to graduate into the real world. Earlier this week, Valleywag unearthed an intriguing job listing on Facebook's site for a stock administration manager.

Sure, one shouldn't read too much into the post. Privately held companies have employee equity compensation programs. For those scoring at home, I've been a Motley Fool shareholder since the 1990s. However, the job requirements seem to be detailed enough -- demanding knowledge of SEC regulations and insider trading practices -- that it seems to hint at a prerequisite readiness for an eventual IPO.

There's another intriguing prerequisite -- "experience with international equity awards" -- that also hints at Facebook having grander expansion plans overseas than anyone seems to think.

Sure, it's just a job listing. Even if a lead is correctly sniffed out from a site's employment pages, it can take years before it bears fruit. Does anyone remember when Amazon.com (Nasdaq: AMZN  ) was recruiting for someone to lead its "forthcoming Digital Music Service" in the summer of 2005? The store was finally officially announced two years later, and it's still not open.    

More than a job-feeler feeling
You don't need to sit in on a Facebook human resources department meeting to get a sense that the company is going public sooner rather than later. Supposedly dismissing a $1 billion Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) buyout offer last year? That's either a hard-bargaining show of arrogance or a company that feels that it will be worth more -- on its own -- down the road.

There are other signs that point to an eventual IPO, but you'll need a key to the boardroom to find them.

A former AOL executive is being brought on to head up the marketing department. A recent chief financial officer hire used to run IGN's financial department until it was acquired by News Corp. (NYSE: NWS  ) . The chief operating officer cut his teeth as an Amazon executive. Investment bankers love seasoned leaders, especially when you're dealing with a company whose co-founders are just 23 years old.

Facebook, don't be late
Timing is a tricky thing. For every MySpace or Flickr that cashed out too soon, you have a Friendster or Kozmo that held on for too long. Going public offers the opportunity to play both sides of the fence. If your IPO was too soon, you can always issue secondary offerings down the road at higher prices. That's what Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) has done, twice.

However, you need more than just a great story to tell to go public these days. You need to have a financial backbone to sway the cynics.

Thankfully, it appears as if Facebook is up to the task. Sources have told The Wall Street Journal that the company is looking to earn a profit of $30 million this year on $150 million in revenue.

Profit? Good. Twenty percent in net profit margins? Great. Upside potential? That's the key. Even if the future is murky, Facebook should still be able to fetch more than what Yahoo! was offering. If the numbers are accurate, Facebook could go public at 40 times earnings and eight times sales and command a $1.2 billion price tag with its eyes closed. More than likely, the Facebook offering will aim higher -- in the $2 billion to $5 billion market cap camp -- and sell buyers on its vision for a bigger, better Facebook.

There are certainly reasons to be optimistic. Beyond the lucrative advertising deal struck with Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) last summer, Facebook has taken some scintillating steps forward in recent months.

There was a point last year when it was easy to ask if Facebook had peaked. Traffic seemed to be stagnant, as it often is over the summer when students go home. However, Facebook went on to make the once-walled community open to the public. Then it kicked things up a notch by providing the magnetic features to keep the increased traffic on its site longer.

It rolled out free online classifieds on its site back in May. Over the next few weeks, it announced third-party developer applications that would allow users to put on their profile pages revenue-enhancing plug-ins like Amazon book reviews, SideStep trip-planning tools, and Prosper's consumer-to-consumer panhandling. Then it tossed a bone to market researchers by allowing them to poll users, on the cheap.

Facebook has completed the transformation. It's the real deal.

A year ago, I wasn't the only one who wanted Facebook to fail. There are only so many stories one could hear of CEO Mark Zuckerberg's ego-stroking dismissal of Yahoo! before you start rooting against someone who supposedly cut meetings short to pick up his girlfriend or couldn't get up early enough for morning negotiations.

Then you watch the company's masterful metamorphosis over the past few months, and Zuckerberg's eccentricities become the strokes of genius. I was shaking my head at Facebook last year. These days, I just can't wait for it to go public so I can grab a piece of it.

I even started my morning going over potential ticker symbols. FACE is the obvious choice, but it's gone. Curse you, Physicians Formula Holdings (Nasdaq: FACE  ) ! BOOK is somehow available, as is the all-consonant FCBK.

But I'm jumping the gun here. The stock administrator hasn't been hired yet. Those dreamy financials won't be posted until early next year. I'm patient. I can wait.

Can Facebook?

Nuggets in the Facebook profile:

Amazon.com and Yahoo! are Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter selections. Microsoft is an Inside Value pick. Read all of the original recommendation reports -- now -- with a free 30-day trial subscription.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz still regrets not buying in on the Google IPO. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also a member of the Rule Breakers analytical team, seeking out the next great growth stock early in its defiance. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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