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How to play it: Facebook readies its IPO

People walk past the Facebook wall inside their office in New York
People walk past the Facebook wall inside their office in New York

By David Randall

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Depending on who you ask, Facebook is either the best company to go public since Google or the hallmark of another tech bubble.

But no matter the ultimate fate of the broad-reaching social network, it's clear that investors will be scrambling to pick up shares when they get the chance. Facebook filed for a $5 billion initial public offering on Wednesday. If all goes smoothly, the actual IPO would follow a few months later.

Facebook shares are likely to pop on the first day of trading. Investors won't get the full benefit unless they are among the few privileged clients of underwriters, Morgan Stanley the lead among them, who can buy at the offer price.

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See a video about Facebook IPO anticipation: http://link.reuters.com/tag46s

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Still, investors who want a stake in the dominant social media company will have options.

LOOK FOR FACEBOOK FUNDS

It is easier to buy funds that own stakes in Facebook than to hope an order for individual shares will be filled early on the IPO day.

A batch of funds from T. Rowe Price will offer one chance, though muted, to benefit from the expected first day pop in the stock. The company revealed last year that it had purchased Facebook's private shares, traded on private markets, at an initial price of $25 per share.

The stake, now worth an estimated $408 million, is spread across 19 funds. Investors in each fund will profit from the IPO, though the fund's overall performance still depends on other companies in each fund.

The Media & Telecommunications Fund (PRMTX) has the largest stake in Facebook, about 1 percent of its total assets. The $1.9 billion fund, which has outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 by an annualized 9.9 percent over the last 10 years, charges 84 cents per $100 invested.

With 48 stocks in its portfolio, the fund has a relatively small stable of company holdings. Apple Inc, Walt Disney Co and Google Inc are the largest stakes, at weightings of about 6 percent each.

Other funds with relatively large stakes: the Global Stock Fund (PRGSX) at about 0.97 percent of assets, the Sciences & Technology Fund (PRSCX) at about 0.90 percent of assets, and the Growth Stock Fund (PRGFX) at about 0.85 percent of assets.

Exchanged traded funds are another option for investors. Though tiny, the $1.4 million Global X Social Media ETF (SOCL) will likely buy shares on the first day of trading, analysts said.

"This is the ETF that will access the Facebook IPO the most quickly," said Christian Magoon of Magoon Capital, a Chicago-based ETF consulting firm. Investors may want to exercise caution before buying, however: the fund was launched only in November and hasn't attracted much investor attention yet, Magoon said.

The fund could be at risk for closure if it doesn't reach at least $30 million in assets under management in two or three years, he said. Investors would get their money back, but it could trigger capital gains taxes, Magoon said.

The First Trust US IPO Index (FPX) is another ETF option, but is better suited for investors who plan to hold Facebook longer than a few days.

The $15 million fund buys shares in IPOs and then holds them for up to 1,000 trading days. Because of its index rules, the fund won't purchase Facebook until six days after its IPO, and only then if the shares haven't gained more than 75 percent over the offer price, said Ryan Issakainen, an ETF strategist at First Trust. Visa is its largest holding at 10 percent of assets.

CONSIDER THE UNDERWRITERS

If investors can't get shares of Facebook, they may want to consider those of its main underwriter. Morgan Stanley is expected to lead the company's IPO, giving it bragging rights that may translate into value for its shareholders.

The company "is doing this more for prestige than to make money," said Michael Wong, an analyst at Morningstar who covers the company. "It will be a boost to their standings and any type of marketing they might want to do to Web-based social media (and) technology companies."

Underwriting is a small part of the company's overall revenue, Wong said, accounting for only about 4 percent over the last two years.

But a successful Facebook IPO could help investors "recognize the potential in Morgan Stanley and have confidence in the company again," he said.

Shares in Morgan Stanley jumped 4 percent Wednesday, to $19.39, on reports that it would lead the Facebook IPO. Even so, the company remains moderately priced.

It is trading at a price-to-earnings ratio of 15, compared with 13 for the broad Standard & Poor's 500 index. And, despite a 28 percent jump over the last month, the company remains 16 percent below where it was trading six months ago.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters have an average price target of $22.40 for the company, a nearly 15.5 percent jump from its current share price.

(Reporting By David Randall; Editing by Walden Siew, Jennifer Merritt and Richard Chang)

(This story corrects second to last paragraph to read that the company remains 16 percent below where it was trading six months ago, not 163 percent)

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