Facebook is on the hunt for a new chief financial officer in hopes of going public, according to reports, although one analyst argues the Internet property missed a golden opportunity for an initial public offering that may not return for several years.

The Wall Street Journal reported Tuesday that CFO Gideon Yu, who joined Facebook in 2007 after a stint at YouTube, will leave the company. The social networking Web site has already commenced a search for a new chief financial officer with "public company experience," a person close to the matter told the Journal.

This seems to be a strong indication that Facebook is finally gearing up for an initial public offering, even though the IPO market isn't expected to heat up in 2009. Renaissance Capital, which operates the Web site IPOHome.com, said that initial public offerings dried up in 2008 as a result of extreme risk aversion and credit woes, and IPO activity will be low in 2009 with high-growth stories less likely to be successful.

Should Facebook decide to go public this year, some analysts wonder if the ability to transform itself into a major tech player even exists, which could be a large concern for investors looking to buy into an IPO. Jeffrey Lindsay, analyst with Sanford Bernstein, argues that Facebook had the last best shot at an Internet initial public offering in the U.S., and that opportunity may not return for years.

Lindsay turns the calendar all the way back to October 2007, when Microsoft ( MSFT) invested $240 million for a 1.6% stake in Facebook, pinning the overall valuation at $15 billion. In the deal, Microsoft not only bought preferred shares to make sure it would get paid first in the event the Facebook was acquired, but also secured an advertising deal and elbowed rival Google ( GOOG) out of the picture.

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