Will Facebook Be In China?

By Greg Sushinsky | December 19, 2010 AAA

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's visit to China stirred interest that the co-founder of the social networking site intends to bring the website to China. Although Zuckerberg met with Robin Li, CEO of Baidu (Nasdaq:BIDU), a spokesman for Baidu tried to dampen the speculation.

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A Short History of Trouble
Most westerners are aware of Google's (Nasdaq:GOOG) foray into China, which was met with censorship and attempts at control. Google originally cooperated with the Chinese government on censorship issues, then refused to go along with it, eventually leaving China. Not as many are aware that Facebook was available in China up until mid-2009.The issue? Censorship, or the Chinese government's aversion to what it considers politically sensitive material. Thus it has banned not only Facebook, but Twitter and YouTube.

Is Facebook Stock Already a Bubble?
Mark Zuckerberg was named Time Magazine's Person of the Year for 2010. Facebook, which is the hottest social networking sites, has private stock, so shares aren't available on the open market. It may go public, perhaps in 2012, but it currently does not publicly report revenue or earnings. Shares are available through Second Market and other avenues, and there has been brisk investor interest.

While the stock trades currently at 25 times its anonymously reported revenue of $2 billion not estimated earnings, shares selling for $25 give Facebook an implied valuation of more than $50 billion. For some context, mediocre Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO) is currently valued at $21 billion, while dominant Amazon's (Nasdaq:AMZN) market cap is $82 billion.To guess at the PE of a private company like Facebook, a multiple of 200 to 400 times estimated earnings has been put forth as a reasonable guess, but earnings are not publicly known. Even castigated Neftlix (Nasdaq:NFLX), which looks overvalued by internet/tech stock standards, trades at "only" 67 times earnings.

From Social Phenomenon to Social Importance
Perhaps the comparison of relative value or the earnings and revenue guesstimates might be considered irrelevant to those who've bought or who are lining up to buy Facebook private stock. We're not talking about day traders or tech-heads or those who think Facebook is Woodstock for the 21st century, or people who've simply heard of Facebook as a new fad from their kids or grandkids. No, serious money - hedge funds and private money managers are lined up to get in on the action. Private shares have rapidly jumped in price already, so those who want in become more nervous every minute they're not. (For related reading, see Alternative Ways To Invest In Facebook).

A Serious Site
Mark Zuckerberg apparently has serious cultural interest in China, as well as reported interest in hooking up Facebook there again. He was quoted as saying, "How can you connect the whole world if you leave out 1.6 billion people?" Kaiser Kuo, international communications director for Baidu, tried to squelch rumors of Facebook's imminent entry into China, but remarked that even if Facebook re-entered China with restrictions, it would still be positive for Chinese internet users.

The Bottom Line
The new Great Wall of China, the one that blocks internet sites that have content the government doesn't like, may have a hard go in the new global millennium. In what may be a related item or not, China's father of this internet wall, Fang Binxing, was temporarily hounded off his blog by hundreds of angry comments from protesters.

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