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Facebook: Unclear on the Concept

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Unfortunately, lost in too much of the "dramatic" coverage of the Facebook IPO has been the real lessons to be learned for those interested in successful technology and growth company investing.

Part of the confusion is understandable. An IPO is a purposely dramatic event - made so by Wall Street needing both to justify fees and to "arouse" investors from their varying states of boredom, apathy, discouragement, and distraction.

And for a uniquely high profile deal like Facebook, the media also plays a less than "innocent" role.

Let's call this the Oprah Winfrey Network effect - or the idea that a good majority of the public just isn’t all that interested in hearing the "mom, peaches and cream" Mark Zuckerberg success story over and over again.

Rather, tales of trading "irregularities" and of the "little guy" being taken advantage of by “big banks” makes strangely addictive and popular TV viewing and blogging and tweeting.

And, as long as we recognize it for what it is, a classic "bread and circus" distraction, a little bit of is mostly harmless.

But, when it rises to a level where this is where most of the coverage is focused, well that is both a problem and a huge lost opportunity to communicate the essence of value and wealth creation in a capitalistic economy.

It is that the value of a company is solely based on the quality and quantity of its future growth prospects.

This is what has been playing itself in the mostly downward gyrations of Facebook stock since its IPO - sophisticated reviewers deeply questioning whether the company can fulfill on its insanely high growth expectations.

So high, in fact, that for investors in at the IPO price to realize even a market rate of return that Facebook’s future growth expectations will have to be such as to value the company greater than that of any company in the history of the world.

This, of course seems like way too tall a mountain for any company to climb, to say nothing of one majority managed and controlled by a very bright but also very inexperienced 28-year-old.

From this perspective, the central investment lesson of the Facebook IPO should be that earning alpha returns requires identifying and investing in companies that are priced below their true growth expectations.

Now, most unbiased observers - i.e. those not making markets in or commissions on trading stocks - argue almost unrefutedly that doing so is impossible in a high profile, high valuation stock like Facebook.

And that the same can be said for virtually any public company part of a major index - Dow, S&P, NASDAQ 100, etc.

Luckily however, there is now a wide, deep, and increasingly liquid world of investable companies that can be bought at prices below “true” expectations.

They exist within the legion of start-up, small business and middle market companies that make up the beating heart of entrepreneurial America.

Once, a long time ago (in terms of development, if not years) Facebook was one of these companies.

And those that invested in it then made returns beyond any and all expectations.

This, identifying and investing in companies with growth prospects to the moon but priced only to go to the corner market, is the game worth playing, isn’t it?

Hard to do?  Of course.

But as the story of Facebook's dramatic rise should teach us so well, far from impossible.


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