Writing on the wall for social network's float

EAGER would-be shareholders in Mark Zuckerberg's Cashbook, err, Facebook, have pushed its worth through the $US100 billion barrier for the first time.

EAGER would-be shareholders in Mark Zuckerberg's Cashbook, err, Facebook, have pushed its worth through the $US100 billion barrier for the first time.

An auction overnight of an interest in Facebook's Class B common stock effectively priced the shares at $US44 each compared with the $US29.73 a share internal valuation in the social network's filing last week for its intended listing.

All up, that values Facebook at a nominal $US102 billion as private investors race to position themselves in what they hope will be a bumper initial public offering.

Private capital markets group SharesPost sadly rejected Insider's application to participate in auctions of stocks such as Facebook and Zynga on the flimsy grounds that our net worth is less than $1 million.

It still, however, taunts Insider with what might have been by email updates on sales. Technically, you cannot buy Facebook shares through SharesPost. You instead buy units in an investment vehicle that owns the shares, and is run by a subsidiary of SharesPost.

That is not a million miles removed from the work-around structures developed by clever mainland China-based companies and their investment bankers to allow foreign investors to buy indirect stakes in those companies via public listing in North America and elsewhere of Virgin Islands-registered outfits that actually own the Chinese assets.

Insider can only assume that investors in Facebook and similar companies will be able to crystallise their investments after the IPO.

At any rate, Insider has been watching the SharesPost/Facebook market for more than a year now, and pretty much all the stock has been going off at the equivalent of $US32 to $US34 a share until the end of January, when news of the impending $US5 billion IPO broke.

Since then the stock has climbed to yesterday's $US44 peak keeping in mind that only 150,000 units of SharesPost's pseudo-equity $6.6 million were auctioned. That is a fraction of the company's total given that Zuckerberg himself has 414 million shares, and an option over another 120 million, at least until the IPO.

Price on a roll

PAPERLINX, which can only dream of being a sought-after stock like Facebook, has set March 23 as the day when paper industry entrepreneur Andrew Price gets his showdown with its embattled board.

Having spent months being beaten up by its distribution-deprived preference shareholders, PaperlinX's board is now under challenge from Price, who has requisitioned a meeting to try to unseat chairman Harry Boon.

Insider has been pointing out since mid-2011 that PaperlinX's value destruction for investors has been embarrassingly massive, resulting in chairman David Meiklejohn departing last September, to be replaced by Boon. Price is enjoying the support of shareholders, not just because they want to see the paper merchant pulled quickly out of its horrendous performances of recent years, but because his mere presence has already buoyed shares so much so that PaperlinX yesterday had to respond to a speeding ticket from the ASX.

The company neatly suggested that the 26 per cent rise in its stock, to a weighty 8.7? a share, might be Price fulfilling public statements that he intended buying shares. They traded up to 9.3? yesterday, but settled for an 8? close.

Since Price and a handful of like-minded investors requisitioned the meeting last Friday, about 40 million PaperlinX shares, or 6.5 per cent of the equity, have changed hands. Most of the buying has been done through Commonwealth Securities, with UBS a close second, which means that it could just be punters speculating on the outcome.

At least they know who is selling, because Maple-Brown Abbott revealed late in the afternoon that it had ditched almost 7 million shares since late January for the princely return of $455,000.

Insider tried to contact Price, who has reportedly moved to Melbourne for the assault on PaperlinX and holed himself up at a luxury hotel in South Yarra, but has yet to hear back.

PaperlinX was also unable to confirm the provenance of a leaked memo published on paperlinx-sux.com website.

Insider is pretty certain the document, signed by London-based chief executive Toby Marchant and dated last Friday, is the real thing if for no other reason than it starts "Dear PLG", management-speak for PaperlinX Leadership Group.

Insider was most amused by Marchant's apparent annoyance with the concept of continuous disclosure, the letter attributing to him the view that, "As a public company it forces us to disclose so much information that we inevitably attract more attention than we would like, and this is yet another classic example of this". Yup, far better those darned shareholders keep out of running the business, and leave managers to run it as a black box.

Mystery buying surge

MINING services operator VDM Group was also asked if it could explain why turnover in shares has accelerated this week, with more than 7 per cent of the equity traded.

VDM was unable to shed any light, although Insider wondered whether any of the trading had to do with Mathews Capital, which confessed to being a substantial shareholder in VDM on Monday with 52.5 million shares.

The declaration from Mathews lacked a date or a price for its investment, which the fund manager later clarified with Insider as an inadvertent cock-up. It became a substantial investor way back in late October, but says a computer glitch meant it failed to pick up on having crossed the 5 per cent threshold.

In any event, Mathews says it has bought only a handful of stock since then and has been uninvolved in the recent activity which has seen the shares rise by more than 60 per cent in value this month to 6.9? each.

Growth spurt

PERTH businessman Gary Lyons has jumped ship from Fairstar Resources to become chairman of Golden West Resources. Fairstar said Lyons left "to pursue a parallel opportunity" a generous interpretation given that Golden West is about three times its size.

insider@fairfaxmedia.com.au

That values Facebook at a nominal $US102 billion as private investors race to position themselves in what they hope will be a bumper initial public offering.

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