How small investors can get in on Facebook IPO

@CNNMoneyInvest May 7, 2012: 5:35 AM ET

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- You might think that scoring a stake in Facebook's initial public offering if you are an average investor is like trying to change your privacy controls on the social networking site -- seemingly impossible.

But it turns out that Facebook is making an effort to have some of its hotly sought after shares accessible to all. In its updated IPO prospectus filed late Thursday, Facebook added E*Trade, the popular low-cost online trading firm, to the list of what is now 33 underwriters of its offering.

"The only reason Facebook would ever authorize E*Trade as an underwriter is because it wants broad retail distribution of its IPO," said Scott Sweet, senior managing partner at IPO Boutique, a research firm tracking new offerings.

That means that users of E*Trade's online brokerage service will have an opportunity to buy shares of Facebook at the IPO price, which should be between $28 to $35 per share. E*Trade (ETFC) has 2.8 million brokerage accounts..

Shares of an IPO are primarily distributed to institutional investors, mutual funds and hedge funds who are the biggest clients of the major Wall Street banks that manage the sale of the shares. On average, these brokerages only allocate 15% of their initial offering to retail investors, said Sweet.

But Wall Street executives estimate that small investors could get a bigger piece when it comes to Facebook's offering -- between 20% and 25%, according to a report in the New York Times. Facebook declined to comment for this story.

While E*Trade would not specifically speak about its role as a co-manager in Facebook's IPO, the company has participated in over 600 public offerings in the past, including MasterCard (MA, Fortune 500) and Google (GOOG, Fortune 500). The company explained its typical IPO process to CNNMoney.

Those who have a brokerage account with E*Trade can participate in a company's IPO, in this case Facebook, through the firm's IPO center. Users can place a so-called conditional offer by indicating how many shares of Facebook they would want to buy, and the maximum price per share they are willing to pay.

Once Facebook's final price for its initial public offering is set, which is likely to be on May 17, E*Trade would than divvy up its portion of the IPO shares to the clients who said they were willing to pay at least that much. An E*Trade customer will need to have sufficient available funds in their accounts to support the offer.

The company also clarified that customers will need to a complete a user profile that aims to gauge whether those who are interested are suitable investors for IPOs by asking questions about annual income, investable assets, and investment goals. However, there are no publicly defined requirements.

Like E*Trade, other brokerage firms may also be able to offer their clients a piece of the action.

Fidelity's brokerage arm could secure access to shares of Facebook at its IPO price thanks to a relationship it has established with Deutsche Bank (DB), one of the underwriters of Facebook's offering.

But Fidelity's got a few more eligibility hurdles than E*Trade: IPOs are only available to clients who have a minimum of $500,000 in assets at Fidelity, and have made at least 36 trades during the last year.

Similarly, Charles Schwab (SCHW, Fortune 500) brokerage customers could also have a chance:

"We aren't an underwriter, but we do periodically offer IPOs to our clients through arrangements we have with underwriters," said Alison Wertheim, a spokeswoman with Schwab. "It remains to be seen to what extent we'll participate in the Facebook IPO."

Meanwhile, TD Ameritrade (AMTD) said it is "a selling group member," which means it is likely involved in selling or marketing Facebook IPO shares, but not as an underwriter.

Investors can also gain exposure to Facebook's IPO by buying a stake in a number of funds that already own shares of the company.

T. Rowe Price (TROW) has a $408 million investment in Facebook, spread across 19 of its mutual funds, including the T. Rowe's Media & Telecommunications Fund (PRMTX) (PRMTX), while Fidelity has positions in Facebook across more than 30 of its mutual funds, such as the Fidelity Contrafund (FCNTX).

GSV Capital (GSVC), which invests in "high growth" pre-IPO companies, holds 350,000 shares of Facebook. That represents nearly 15% of its total portfolio. The Firsthand Technology Value Fund (SVVC) boasts 600,000 shares of Facebook.

There is also the Global X Social Media Index (SOCL) exchange-traded fund, which includes social media stocks LinkedIn (LNKD), Zynga (ZNGA) and others as top holdings. It will add Facebook to its holdings five days after the company makes its stock market debut.

But of course, any investor needs to be careful of buying a fund just because it has a position in Facebook.  To top of page

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