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How to Crash Investors' Private Parties

T. Rowe Price (TROW) has sprinkled private shares into several funds. In April, it went public with its $190 million investment in Facebook, shares bought via a private offering of employee-owned stock that was authorized by the social media giant.

The T. Rowe Price Global Technology Fund (PRGTX) and its Science and Technology Fund (PRSCX) may be top-heavy with well-known, public companies such as Apple (AAPL), Microsoft (MSFT), Google (GOOG) and H-P (HPQ), but also under the hood are hot pre-IPO companies including Facebook, Angie's List, Zynga, Twitter and Groupon. Be aware, however, that the T. Rowe Price funds still only have less than 1% of their holdings in Facebook, so Mark Zuckerberg isn't going to get to know you on a first-name basis.

Taking a cue from T. Rowe Price, one approach to buying private stock is to find a willing (and authorized) seller.

Even those with enough personal wealth to not worry about SEC restrictions can find it hard to crack into the exclusive club of private shares. As such, a variety of exchanges have emerged -- SharesPost and SecondMarket among them -- to match up buyers with sellers (which often include early VC investors and past or present employees with stock options).

As of July 26, SecondMarket had completed $268 million in private company stock transactions. Since its start in 2008, it has completed 650 transactions for about $750 million.

Far and away, for Q2 of 2011, the hot industry has been consumer Web and social media, for 87.6% of SecondMarket's completed transactions. Retailing and commerce accounted for 5.1% and "business products and services" commanded 7.3% of transactions.

What's hot? According to the company, the most-watched companies on its site are Facebook, Twitter, Groupon, Zynga, Foursquare, Yelp, Dropbox, Gilt Group and LivingSocial.

There is a possibility it will soon be easier for individuals to buy private shares.

In an April 6 letter to U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, SEC Chairman Mary Schapiro responded to his concerns that regulations were stifling investment and, in turn, stalling IPOs.

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