Friday, May 25, 2012

Chocolate Microscopes and Mark Zuckerberg

“They raised the range on the offering literally two days after the underwriters called around saying, ‘lower your numbers for the second quarter.’ Those two things don’t go together, ever.” Hugh Evans, T. Rowe Price

(By American Zen's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari)

One of the most amusing things of watching a story like the Facebook IPO implode in real time like a still-new and glittering Vegas hotel is how the mainstream media's coverage also adjusts its tone and focus. Every once in a while, by processes, powers and Byzantine prognosticizing that escapes even those of us in the game, certain stories get anointed The Lead by the journalistic Powers That Be. Even more insidiously and whether by design or not, they're given an almost universal bias. And whatever the bias, it's decided by some upper echelon consensus denied those of us who are actually in the inky trenches that such stories take precedence over all others. Some of these stories justifiably cry out for more ink and air time, such as the 9/11 attacks.

Other times, however, we have jammed down our throats balloon boys, runaway brides, starlets' pantieless crotches, Anna Nicole's death and Iraqi WMD. Then they feign shock, shock, I tells ya at their own ignorance. And such ignorance and getting caught with its collective pants down itself becomes the story. It's a seedier version of Spiderman going after the crook who killed his Uncle Ben after having aided and abetted his escape.

The Facebook Initial Public Offering or IPO that hit the gilded shelves of Wall Street on May 17th was another of those stories. True, even without hype by the corporate media, it was one of the most highly anticipated IPO's in Wall Street history, certainly the most eagerly awaited internet IPO. The Dotcom bust of the 90's? What Dotcom bust?

The resultant media frenzy, largely thanks to the NY Times, which has led several times with the Facebook offering since the 17th, gave Mark Zuckerberg's Initial Public Offering all the frenzied hype, hence all the dignity of a cross between the 19th century gold rush in the Klondike and a Japanese game show, especially those featuring greedy pikers who are supposed to grab as much money as possible in a massive cash cube.

It was another instance of Wall Street manufacturing money out of thin air, on pure speculation. And, while there's nothing wrong with a little speculation among friends (life itself is a risk, after all), no one, least of all the mainstream media, stopped to ask us or themselves what could possibly go wrong? Especially when it was known who'd be underwriting the IPO (Morgan Stanley) and since it was widely reported early last year that another crooked, bailed-out entity, Goldman Sachs, pumped a half a billion dollars into Facebook (that story even begins with the deliciously ironic sentence, "Bubble? What bubble?").

What could possibly go wrong? Potential for insider trading, lying to investors, sharing privileged information only with "favored clients" and company executives so they can parachute out safely while the rest can burn in this Hindenburg of an IPO? Why, with $100 billion at stake, that's never happened before.

"Chocolate Microscopes?" "Approved."

In a 1995 episode of The Simpsons, Who Shot Mr. Burns, Pt 1, Springfield finds out it has a vast reservoir of oil in its midst. As it often does in the real world, this was a massive windfall for the town, including the school education budget. While Principal Skinner is taking recommendations from all comers, resident paste eater Ralph Wiggum asks, "Chocolate microscopes?" and it's immediately given a big red rubber stamp of approval.

The Facebook IPO once again brought out the avariciousness of people but not just the Wall Street psychopaths who benefited the most from it but smaller investors who were lured, as are most of us, by the unctuous assurances of easy money and "a sure thing." And as everyone who's ever spent one dollar on the lottery can agree on, there's only one thing that's better than earning a lot of money and that's not having to earn it.

There is so much that's wrong with the Facebook IPO and with Facebook itself down to their Ralph Wiggum-class business model of not charging people to do their thing while almost half completely ignore your sponsors' ads (as a study released the same day of the IPO's unveiling found) that I hardly know where to begin.

It reveals on the most superficially pragmatic level the greed of people from virtually all walks of life (at least those smaller investors who can afford to sink more than a couple of thousand into stock speculation). It reveals the goldfish attention span and longterm memory of the corporate mainstream media that apparently never remembered after the first commercial break or when the fish was wrapped with their papers the Dotcom bust, Enron, Worldcom, the two halves of the TARP bailout and the reasons for the nationwide Occupy protests.

Now they're going from breathless headlines of, "Will Zuckerberg Make $100 billion off Facebook IPO????????" to much more subdued but still leading stories such as, "After 33 Years, Police Make Arrest in Case of Etan Patz." Huh? Etan Patz? A 33 year-old murder mystery anticlimatically solved when the guilt-riddled murderer turned himself in? Oh, Grey Lady, Why Hast Thou Forsaken Me???

Actually, perhaps the incipiently forgetful and demented Grey Lady is doing Zuckerberg a favor, perhaps by design, by not making the latest allegations of fraud, insider trading and lying to investors their lead story or anything close to it. And the first day the IPO went public, even as it was beginning to fall faster than Wile E. Coyote with an anvil shoved up his ass, the biggest story of any preemptive maneuvering was Zuckerberg getting married just after the Public Offering was put on the NASDAQ bidding block, inviting sleazy speculation of a prenup that was bigger than a Reader's Digest big print edition of War and Peace.

Turns out it was a lot sleazier than that and it wasn't as if supposedly savvy investors, a jaded MSM and top executives from Facebook and the participating banks (the infamous Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America) didn't know nor care to repeat an oft-told tale.

It involved certain "favored" investors (presumably those who'd put up the most cash, such as Paypal Founder and Facebook executive Peter Theil, who made almost $850,000,000 in one day. Zuckerberg took in about $1.13 billion to pay his back taxes) while smaller investors were left in the dark about Facebook's downgraded status at the same exact time Facebook increased the number of available shares by 25%. In the days leading up to the IPO's unveiling, it was reported that Facebook had run out of shares, so many people were riotously throwing so much cash at them. It was Ponzi 2.0 and still no one thought anything was untoward when Facebook magically pulled another 25% out of its fat, blue ass and inviting stock dilution and inflation.

You'd think more people would've been more pragmatic to realize that Zuckerberg stole the very concept of Facebook from Harvard University and boned the Winklevoss twins out of what could've easily have been billions or that Zuckerberg had long since positioned himself to avoid paying most if not all of his taxes (as if being worth $27 billion by age 27 isn't more than enough to hold him for the rest of his lifetime) and that one of Facebook's co-founders renounced his US citizenship once it had outlived its usefulness and fled the country (which the right wing scumbag Chamber of Commerce cock puppets at Forbes, typically, actually praised).

You'd think more people would've looked at Facebook's Mr. Bill business platform that involves no goods, no real socially redeemable services and was predicated largely on selling your private information to corporations very similar in sociopathic tendencies to those that had invested so heavily and had underwritten the much-hyped IPO.

If nothing else, the Facebook IPO that, barely a week after its debut, has already resulted in more lawsuits than a Cray could count starting with Facebook's rank-and-file investors plus an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission and two congressional investigations. Regardless of how stupendously crooked this IPO was even before the bell rang on Day One, it's hard to feel sorry for so many morons who were so easily duped when they should've known with whom they were climbing into bed.

It also reveals the Inner Circle mentality of Wall Street with its largely unpunished culture of insider trading and protecting "favored clients" from any serious fallout, starting with the people who can afford to lose the most starting with Mark Zuckerberg and Peter Theil. I seriously hope Mark's Mini Mes who got boned by this IPO bought a lot of chocolate microscopes because they may be only thing that'll sustain them during this next and unlearned object lesson in greed at the Big Leagues.


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