May 4, 2012 / 9:40 PM / 8 years ago

Wedbush starts Facebook with outperform rating

(Reuters) - As Facebook Inc prepares to market its $10.6 billion initial public offering to U.S. fund managers next week, brokerage Wedbush Securities set a $44-per-share price target that implies a potential capital gain of about 40 percent for IPO investors.

Facebook on Thursday set an indicative IPO price range of $28 to $35 a share, which would value the world’s largest online social network at $77 billion to $96 billion. Depending on how the roadshow for investors go, Facebook could begin trading on Nasdaq as soon as May 18.

Demand for Facebook shares will likely outstrip supply, Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a research note, rating the stock “outperform”.

“We believe Facebook will capture an increasing percentage of spending on offline advertising, while growing its share of online advertising as well as usage continues to increase and advertisers become more comfortable with the cost effectiveness of online advertising,” Pachter said.

Not everyone on Wall Street is as bullish.

Steven Weinstein, an analyst with ITG Investment Research, said that Facebook’s existing lines of business do not have the horsepower to justify investing in the company at a nearly $100 billion valuation.

“Just to get a reasonable return, a stock like this has to double in six-ish years,” said Weinstein. “Right now they’re not on trajectory to get there,” he said, citing the deceleration in Facebook’s advertising business and the limited contribution from its payments business.

But he said Facebook has a lot of opportunities to find new sources of revenue growth, including mobile advertising and potentially creating an online advertising network. Weinstein published a report analyzing Facebook’s financials in April, though his firm does not provide a price target or rating on the stock.

In a note dated April 24, Pivotal Research Group had reduced the enterprise valuation of Facebook to $75 billion from $82 billion, saying Facebook’s first-quarter results were disappointing.

Wedbush is the first financial firm to weigh in with an official price target and rating on Facebook’s stock, as investors prepare for what is expected to be the largest IPO in Silicon Valley history.

Facebook’s high valuation will put it on par with large-cap technology powerhouses such as Cisco Systems Inc and Inc, making it certain to attract coverage from dozens of Wall Street analysts.

But analysts whose firms are involved in the IPO - Facebook’s prospectus lists 33 underwriters - are unlikely to initiate coverage of Facebook until several weeks after the offering because of securities regulations

Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco and Supantha Mukherjee in Bangalore Editing by Richard Chang, Gary Hill

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