Apple Inc. (AAPL:US) co-founder Steve Wozniak said investors looking to make money should buy Facebook Inc. (FB:US) shares when the social networking site sells stock in what may be a record initial public offering for an Internet business.
Wozniak, who built the first Apple computer (AAPL:US) with Steve Jobs and co-founded the company with him in 1976, said he would consider buying the stock regardless of its valuation this week. Mark Zuckerberg, who started Facebook while a student at Harvard University in 2004, combines Wozniak and Jobs’s talents, he said in an interview yesterday.
Facebook’s IPO, scheduled for May 17, plans to raise as much as $11.8 billion and values the operator of the world’s most popular social networking site at as much as $96 billion. Investors in the sale are betting the company’s database of 526 million daily active users makes it worth about 99 times the net income (FB:US) earned in the 12 months through March 31.
“I would invest in Facebook,” Wozniak said in an interview with Bloomberg Television in Sydney. “I don’t care what the opening price is.”
A Bloomberg poll of investors conducted May 8 found 79 percent thought the valuation implied by the IPO was too high.
The Menlo Park, California-based company is offering 337.4 million shares at $28 to $35.
“It’s a bit of a gamble,” Paul Budde, an independent telecommunications analyst, said by phone from Bucketty, Australia today. “There are plenty of risks along the line.”
Zuckerberg is a “real acute” businessman who mixes technical ability with the vision and corporate acumen of Steve Jobs, Wozniak said.
“I was thankful to have a partnership with Steve Jobs and I see Mark Zuckerberg closer to the combination of us,” he said. “When he speaks he speaks with a lot of idealism for the users and a lot of good ideas for the product overall.”
Wozniak is chief scientist at Fusion-io Inc. (FIO:US), a maker of flash-memory technology. The Salt Lake City-based company counts Facebook as its biggest customer.
Wozniak said Zuckerberg’s decision to hold out as long as possible before selling shares to the public was the right strategy for the social networking company.
“I’m glad they held out so long,” he said. “You don’t have to think that your only goal can be an IPO.”
Facebook announced last January that it would start filing public financial reports this year because it expected to breach a regulatory threshold on the number of its shareholders.
U.S. companies with more than 500 shareholders have historically had to publish their financial data under investor- protection laws, removing many of the attractions of being structured as a closely-held company. The 500-shareholder limit was raised to 2,000 under an act which passed the U.S. Senate March 22.
Describing himself as a “laboratory scientist” more than a businessman, Wozniak said he had mixed feelings about a potential takeover of Fusion-io amid speculation the company may become a target.
Rajesh Ghai, a San Francisco-based analyst for ThinkEquity, describes the company as a “strong acquisition candidate” and estimates its shares could fetch as much as $40 in a takeover.
Fusion-io shares (FIO:US) closed May 11 at $21.41 and have risen 13 percent since the company first sold shares to the public in June. The stock has declined 47 percent from its Nov. 17 peak of $40.34.
“Once you have an IPO like Fusion-io did, oh my gosh you’ve now got to look at targets that you can add to your base,” he said. “You’ve also got to worry about who might acquire you. And is that good or bad? It’s sort of a sell-out in my mind.”
After the IPO, Facebook shares will trade on the Nasdaq Stock Market under the symbol FB.
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