Facebook Inc. takes its show on the road next week to build support for an initial public offering that it said could value the company at as much as $96 billion _ eclipsing the first offerings of search giant Google Inc. and every Web company that came before.
Facebook said in a filing Thursday that it hopes to price its stock at $28 to $35 a share, raising as much as $11.8 billion for about 12 percent of class A and B shares in the Menlo Park, Calif., social networking company.
But high demand could be generated as co-founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and other top executives attend a series of meetings with managers of mutual funds, hedge funds and pension funds starting Monday.
Facebook is looking for institutional investors who would hold onto the stock, and it's in a position to get what it's looking for. Demand for Facebook shares is expected to outstrip supply.
With interest coming from overseas investors as well, some experts believe the company could end up pricing its shares above the range set, setting up the prospect that the company could end up being valued at more than $100 million.
Facebook, which has more than 900 million registered users, is seen as the most promising of a new generation of Web companies tapping into users' online social lives.
"People will be turned away at road shows due to overwhelming attendance, and it will be standing room only in every location," said Scott Sweet, managing partner of IPO Boutique. "This is a phenomenon that few IPOs ever get."
If all goes as planned during the road show, bankers and executives will sit down May 17 to price the stock, which would begin trading the next day.
"I think Facebook set a wide range to drive interest from traditional institutional investors, who were underwhelmed with Facebook's recently released first-quarter results," said Lou Kerner, founder of the Social Internet Fund.
The company showed signs of slowing. Net income slipped 12 percent from the first quarter last year to $233 as million Facebook invested in its data center, hired employees and marketed its services. Quarterly sales were nearly $1.1 billion, the second quarter in a row sales topped $1 billion.
"But the underwriters are going to see overwhelming global interest, and it's likely the ultimate IPO price is going to be higher than the indicated range," Kerner said.
Sam Hamadeh, chief executive of PrivCo, which researches private companies, expects the final price to come in as much as $3 above the high end of the range and still leave room for a healthy pop on the first day trading.
Zuckerberg, who turns 28 on May 14, right before he officially takes his place among the world's tech billionaires, will sell 30.2 million of his 533.8 million shares in the sale. He is selling the shares to cover tax charges. His stake in the company is valued as high as $18.7 billion.
He will also keep control over the company, retaining 58 percent of the company's voting power through his own shares and, under an agreement, those of certain other shareholders.
The 8-year-old social network's IPO will be Silicon Valley's largest yet, easily surpassing Google's $23 billion valuation at the time of its 2004 IPO. And the IPO also will put Facebook within striking distance of retail giant Amazon.com's current market value.
If high demand triggers an over-allotment option to sell additional shares held in reserve, Facebook could raise as much as $13.6 billion. Google in 2004 raised $1.9 billion in an over-allotment sale. About half of the shares are being sold by the company's founders, employees and investors.
Facebook, which got its start as a hangout for Harvard kids, is the world's most popular online social network. It is expected to reach an audience of 1 billion users later this year, and some analysts said it might even try to enter China's huge Internet market.
Facebook plans to list its stock on the Nasdaq exchange under the symbol FB.