Dear Mr Zuckerberg
Sunday, January 29, 2012 7:00 PM
Initial Public Offering? You run what may already be the most public company ever. With nearly a billion users, Facebook connects the world, people rich and poor, educated and not, all using your product as equals, even on a deeply personal level. In the vocabulary of the OWS movement, you could say that Facebook serves the 100%.
At the same time, the bankers advising you are nearly universally distrusted - if not reviled - by the global public. So as they maneuver you toward an IPO, it’s not too late to ask: what exactly are they selling?
Your bankers’ Powerpoint will tout the benefits of a stock market listing, highlighting the ease with which buyers and sellers trade stock in a $100 billion company. The banker song-and-dance will regale you with tales of anxious demand from mutual funds vying for your shares, and how presence in stock market indices will compel tracker funds to buy more Facebook shares, further boon to your team and your prescient early investors.
More important, though, is what the bankers’ pitch won’t say: that your IPO will make Facebook just another chip in a multidimensional casino they run, one that gets seedier and less attractive every day.
The moment it starts trading, Facebook stock will be interconnected with tens of thousands of derivative products that trade in markets all over the world: exchange-listed and OTC, transparent and not, futures, swaps, warrants and options, each based on Facebook stock, alone and in baskets with others; in ETFs and structured products, leveraged and not, issued by scores of financial operators, and proliferating in perpetuity with minor variations detailed in offering memoranda that nobody ever reads.
What does any of this have to do with real people investing in Facebook? Nothing, really. It all exists for itself to support trading for trading’s sake, a vast chaotic superstructure that enriches financial intermediaries and trading firms, even as they race to undermine the noble purpose of markets meant to seed innovation with capital.
While real economic activity plumbs new depths, the people dealing the cards are happy to extract the last receipts on the night, even as they destroy tomorrow’s clientele. If capital markets were an ecosystem, it would be ruled by its parasites.
Capitalism’s woeful state owes itself in large measure to these markets where means have become ends. Terrified by price swings engineered in invisible mechanisms of market manipulation, real investors run for the exits, initiating a cycle where financing for new companies disappears and job growth stalls everywhere.
So why do I write to you, Mr Zuckerberg? Because you are now in a unique position to do an enormous public service while, at the same time, fulfilling your goals and those of Facebook’s investors. With your technology and your connected user base, you could create an open, effective and sustainable market to trade your own stock. Hold an auction once a day, or once an hour. Simple.
And why does that matter to the larger world? Because many public companies already feel betrayed by modern markets where, inexplicably, their shares endure nerve wracking volatility at the hands of nefarious trading. Within a year, I bet, you’d have blue-chip companies from all over the world begging to be listed on the Facebook exchange, a trend that would bode well for a constructive realignment of the financial system behind democratic capitalism.
Don’t dance with the bankers until their cynical music stops. Take a line out of the Sinatra songbook and do it your way. You’ll be serving your public by reminding people how markets should operate: in service of society, not the other way around.
(While a guest in the “Communications Tent” at Occupy London Stock Exchange, the correspondent watched members of the movement using Facebook.)