Facebook Facepalm

Facebook’s Mid-May “Initial Public Offering” was a bubble that never really got inflated enough for an ugly burst … yet somehow everyone still managed to come out of it covered in icky goo. The stock opened at (an apparently inflated) $38 per share, and now looks set to stabilize in the mid $20s. Shareholder lawsuits and SEC investigations are already in process.

Well, folks, you were warned — by, among others, my friend Neal Reynolds, who wrote as the IPO rolled out that “likely within a few days the stock will settle down far below whatever peak it hits today — especially since GM just pulled all their advertising from Facebook” … hold that thought, will ya?

And I’m viscerally sympathetic to the opinion of e.g. columnist Tibor Machan, that a stock falling after its introduction is just the market at work, versus which “[a]ll this pining for a sure thing just gives the politicians an excuse to butt in.”

But the real problem, I think, is that the politicians already had butted in, in many ways, both structurally and at, so to speak, “point of sale.”

I’m surprised that more people haven’t commented on General Motors’ decision to pull millions of dollars worth of Facebook advertising mere days before the IPO. The punditry seems to be generally treating that decision as a market act … but the timing looks less related to advertising efficacy than to a desire to tank the stock price. While it could have been routine (if large-scale) gamesmanship on the part of higher-ups at GM who wanted to short the stock, I seem to recall that GM’s single largest shareholder is the government of the United States.

Could there be a political dimension here? Why would the Obama regime lean on a company it owns 3/5ths of to help torpedo Facebook’s IPO? Possible reasons range from the petty (to punish Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin for renouncing his US citizenship to keep the taxman’s grubby hands off his new fortune) to the sinister (not wanting a new tech bubble, with possible gooey explosion, playing out over a contentious election cycle to unknown effect; or perhaps just getting some leverage on Facebook by creating a “situation” that could then be made to “go away” given cooperation on things like user surveillance).

Even absent the GM hijinks, one can’t help but notice that the IPO’s backers were the usual suspects — Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, et. al, the state-privileged players whose collective motto is “privatized profits, socialized risks, anything goes, and Uncle Sugar will save us if we need him to” — or that those usual suspects acted in the usual way, doing their damnedest to deceive investors into buying or holding shares not on the basis of their real value, but by propping up the stock price with massive buys as it began to sink.

And finally, there’s Facebook itself, now “under investigation” by the Securities and Exchange Commission … the government bureaucracy whose paperwork requirements theoretically protect investors, but which somehow always seems to do exactly the opposite. Did Facebook present one set of information to the public and another to “select investors” (the usual suspects named above)? If so, does that information differential (and/or the actions taken based on the “select investor” information) constitute fraud?

Can’t keep track of the players without a scorecard. Can’t trust the numbers ON the scorecard. But to the extent that skulduggery is playing out in the Facebook saga, one can’t help but notice that the politicians seem to be looking over every major player’s shoulder and whispering instructions into those players’ ears.

Nor can one reasonably write off that set of facts as mere coincidence. This, my friends, is actually existing capitalism. And if you think that’s the same thing as a free market, I’ve got some shares in a bridge I’d like to sell you. At $38 a pop.

Citations to this article:

Free Markets & Capitalism?
Markets Not Capitalism
Organization Theory
Conscience of an Anarchist