How Close Is Facebook's IPO?

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It's been a long time coming, but at long last it seems that Facebook may be on the verge of filing for an IPO. The market's been all abuzz over the past week on hopes that investors will finally be able to get their hands on the social networking king.

The deal promises to be the most anticipated initial public offering in recent memory, topping those of recent social players such as LinkedIn (NYS: LNKD) , Groupon (NAS: GRPN) , and Zynga (NAS: ZNGA) . It may also become the largest Internet IPO in history, topping Google's 2004 splash.

LinkedIn was a clear proxy as the most similar site, which helped it pop as high as $122.70 on the opening day last year, an astronomical 173% premium over the $45 offer price. Groupon's social ties helped it jump a more modest 56% at its high on its first day in the limelight, while Zynga's reliance on Facebook's app platform played into just a 15% pop out of the gates.

Simmer down
Before you get too excited, remember that the actual offering is still a bit away. What Facebook may be filing are just some of the preliminary documents necessary on its path to the public. The filing that everyone is looking forward to is an S-1 Registration statement, which gives curious eyes a first-time glimpse at a company's formerly private books.

The S-1 is but the first of many steps toward the offering, and is usually amended numerous times. A form 424B4 Prospectus follows later, which is the document that all investors are technically "supposed" to read before investing. To add some perspective, LinkedIn's initial S-1 was filed on Jan. 27 last year, while its prospectus came on its first day of trading, May 19.

Zynga and Groupon each saw roughly five months pass between filing its S-1 and trading publicly. The point is that as exciting as it will be seeing Facebook's innards, hopeful buyers will still need to sit tight.

Show me what you got
Naturally, everyone wants to see Facebook's top line and just how quickly it's growing in lockstep with its current 800 million users. More importantly is how well Facebook is able to translate that growth into black ink by the time it reaches the bottom line.

Back in 2009, Facebook was trying to score an investment from Goldman Sachs (NYS: GS) , and some of those documents were leaked. They showed revenue of $1.24 billion in nine months, a 180% year-over-year rise. Net income for that period was $355 million, a major jump over the prior year's $43.6 million.

Researcher eMarketer separately estimates that Facebook has grown revenue from $738 million in 2009 to $3.8 billion in 2011.

Another notable tidbit will be the breakdown of Facebook's revenue streams. Most of its revenue undoubtedly comes from display advertising, but it also milks dollars out of its app platform from the likes of Zynga, among others. This revenue composition will also be closely watched.

Deal details
As far as the offering itself goes, it's expected to raise up to as much as $10 billion in fresh capital, while valuing Facebook between $75 billion and $100 billon. To put that 12-digit upper-range figure into perspective, Facebook would be starting out with a market cap topping fellow tech household names including Amazon.com's $81 billion, Yahoo!'s $20 billion, and Hewlett-Packard's $57 billion.

I'm waiting to see some solid digits before formulating an opinion on whether Facebook deserves 11 zeroes.

Morgan Stanley (NYS: MS) is supposedly landing the lucrative lead underwriter title, earning it hefty fees in the process. That would be a sting for rival Goldman Sachs, who also has a stake in Facebook. It will likely get a nice return on its investment, along with a slightly lesser role in the offering, so don't feel bad for Goldman (not like you were about to).

Keep your eye on the ball
Assuming Facebook files its S-1 soon, it'll be hard to miss. The financial media will swarm all over it and there will be no shortage of coverage. Stay tuned for more, as Facebook may be about to post a big status update of its own.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorEvan Niuowns shares of Amazon.com, but he holds no other position in any company mentioned.Click hereto see his holdings and a short bio. The Motley Fool owns shares of Amazon.com, Google, Yahoo!, and LinkedIn.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Yahoo!, The Goldman Sachs Group, Amazon.com, and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe thatconsidering a diverse range of insightsmakes us better investors. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.

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