Analysts Flocking to Cover Facebook

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Facebook is still more than a week away from its much-hyped mega IPO, but analysts are already flocking to weigh in on the social networking phenomenon.

Buoyed by the buzz surrounding the largest-ever tech IPO, a number of analysts have taken the bold step of initiating coverage on Facebook ahead of its offering, which is expected on May 18.
Analysts are already flocking to cover Facebook .

Wedbush Morgan analyst Michael Pachter, for example, initiated coverage of Facebook with an outperform rating and a $44 price target on Monday. "We look at what Facebook has as an asset, which is 900 million people and a ton of data on those people," Pachter explained, during an interview with CNBC.

"For advertisers, the company's advertising solutions provide a platform with a combination of reach, relevance and social context to engage with more than 901 million monthly active users," added Herman Leung, an analyst at Susquehanna Financial Group, in a note. The analyst predicts that Facebook will grow its revenue 40% to $5.19 billion in 2012, up from $3.71 billion in 2012. For 2013, Susquehanna expects 33% sales growth, to $6.9 billion.

Leung did not slap a rarting or price target on Facebook just yet, although the analyst says that the company's recently-announced price range should resonate with investors. "We believe Facebook shares represent a compelling entry point based on the $28 to $35 per share derived by the recent filing range," he explained.

Last week, in an amendment to its S-1 filing, Facebook said that it could raise as much as $13.6 billion from its offering. The $13.6 billion figure represents the maximum proposed size of the offering, which would reflect the sale of 388 million shares at $35 each.

Excluding an over-allotment of 50.6 million shares, however, and assuming an IPO price of $31.50 a share, the midpoint of its range, Facebook would raise $10.6 billion.

Facebook's offering will easily surpass Google's ( GOOG) 2004 $1.7 billion IPO, up to this point the largest IPO from an American tech company. German semiconductor specialist Infineon Technologies, however, was another mega offering, raising $5.2 billion in its 2000 IPO. The chipmaker opted to delist from the New York Stock Exchange in 2009.

Facebook estimates that its net proceeds from the sale of its common stock will be approximately $5.67 billion, assuming an IPO price at the midpoint of its range.

The company's advertising business is attracting plenty of attention prior to its IPO. Advertising accounted for 85% of Facebook's total 2011 revenue.

In a note released on Monday, Evercore Partners placed a valuation of $140 billion to $160 billion on the social networking giant, thanks to the potential of its advertising business.

Evercore analyst Ken Sena explained that several changes are underway in Facebook's advertising operation, prompting the high valuation. " Facebook's display business will give way to sponsored content faster than anticipated," he said, citing its high Return on Investment (ROI) for marketers and suitability for mobile devices.

Facebook, according to Sena, is also creating an "ad network" for publishers, which converts them into advertisers through "enhanced" sponsored features. "Instead of Facebook managing their partners' ad sale needs, Facebook manages their viral distribution needs for a portion of revenues," he added.

Evercore Partners has not yet initiated coverage on Facebook.

Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia initiated coverage on Facebook with a buy rating and a $46 price target on Monday.

In his note, Bhatia says that Facebook's IPO is worth the risk, predicting that the company could be as disruptive as Google.

-- Written by James Rogers in New York.

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