LinkedIn's wild ride prompts puzzlement, raises expectations

Analysts say LinkedIn's surging IPO could serve as bellwether for other social networks

Professional social networking site LinkedIn went public today and immediately saw its share price and valuation surge.

Actually, LinkedIn's IPO was such a wild ride that one financial analyst called it both exciting and puzzling.

"It's definitely an interesting day and an exciting one if you're a LinkedIn shareholder," said Cem Ozkaynak, co-founder of financial research firm Trefis. However, he added, "It's a matter of puzzlement and raises curiosity for what other IPOs, like Facebook, will be like."

Though it's widely seen as a second-tier player in the world of social networking, LinkedIn's IPO got a lot of attention because it's the first U.S.-based social network to complete an initial public offering.

Investors and analysts have been eyeing the move as a possible bellwether for the the social media industry as a whole, as well as Facebook in particular.

On Wednesday afternoon, less than 24 hours before LinkedIn would begin trading on the New York Stock Exchange, the company announced that it was offering up 7.8 million shares at $45 per share.

Just before noon on Thursday, less than three hours after the IPO was launched, LinkedIn shares were selling $115 a pop. By mid-afternoon, the price had dropped, but only slightly, to $104.

At the end of the day, the company was valued at $9.8 billion, about three times the valuation initially projected by Ozkaynak and his firm.

"Based on our valuation, we don't think it's worth [$9.8 billion]," said Ozkaynak. "We look at what is the business likely to trend towards, what the key growth drivers are and the cash flow it will generate. We have a pretty reasonable to aggressive forecast on how it will grow.

"We say it will continue to grow. We're not saying it will do poorly ... still that's a valuation of about $3.2 billion," he added.

Ozkaynak said it will be interesting to see whether the stock can maintain its current value.

What may be more interesting is what LinkedIn's success in the stock market will mean for other, bigger social networks that may be looking at filing for their own IPOs. Facebook, for instance, has been rumored to be looking at an initial offering in late 2012 or shortly thereafter.

"I think it bodes really well for Facebook," said Ozkaynak. "Twitter also ... but really Facebook, which is a clear leader with massive scale similar to Google. This bodes really well for their valuation."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her e-mail address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

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