Psst! What if Facebook shares are actually cheap?

Facebook shares have been set at $38, valuing the company at over $100 billion. One Fool likes them, even at these lofty levels

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Facebook raised $16 billion last night.

Instead of the earlier deal that valued the leading social networking website operator between $77 billion and $96 billion, the privileged early buyers have shelled out $38 for every share of Facebook they coveted. This values Facebook at $104 billion before ordinary investors like you and me get a crack at it in the open market on Friday U.S. time.

Let me tell you how nearly every analyst and financial media watcher expects this to play out.

Despite going public at a market cap above $100 billion, the stock will pop higher for the first wave of public buyers shortly after Friday's opening bell. Whether it hits $50 or $60 — anything short of the low $70s where it bumps up against the substantially larger Google's (Nasdaq: GOOG) market cap seems plausible — the stock will burn nearly every poor sap that places a market order on Friday.

In a few weeks or perhaps months, Facebook will give back all of those gains. It will be a busted IPO, and the subsequent sell-off in overvalued dot-coms will leave financial historians calling this the Facebook bubble.

Wrong again
The rest of this article is devoted to the reasons why the prevailing mindset I just detailed will be wrong.

Don't hate me. Just take this time to be a contrarian, unlike the boatload of Facebook IPO bashers that believe that they are the ones being contrarian. They're not. Well, at least not this time.

It's easy to predict that Facebook will pop higher at the open. It's even easier to predict that Facebook will be a busted IPO this summer. The U.S. has had plenty of leading Internet companies go public over the past year, only to come crashing down.

IPO High 14/5/12
Groupon (Nasdaq: GRPN) $20 $31.14 $11.74
Zynga (Nasdaq: ZNGA) $10 $15.91 $7.95
Pandora (NYSE: P) $16 $26.00 $9.82

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

All three companies are the top dogs in their respective areas of specialty. Groupon and Zynga can even tie their rapid success to the popularity of Facebook. Groupon became popular through the viral nature of folks posting the local deals they scored on Facebook (because Groupon promises the deal is free if the person can get three more to follow suit). Zynga's social games took advantage of Facebook opening its door for third-party apps, and now accounts for 15% of Facebook's revenue.

However, none of those companies are Facebook. Groupon and Pandora are just now breaking into spotty profitability. Zynga is merely the trendy store in the world's busiest mall. Given the fickle nature of social gaming, the smarter bet is on the mall landlord itself — and that's Facebook.

Tomorrow's earnings won't come from yesterday's ads
A common knock on Facebook is that online advertising doesn't work on the site. Facebook may now have more than 900 million active users, but only a handful of them are stupid enough to click on the shady ads promising snoring cures or killer abs.

Search marketing manager WordStream pitted Facebook against Google, finding that just 0.051% of Facebook ads received clicks for advertisers. Google, on the other hand, checked in with a 0.4% click-through rate.

This isn't a surprise. Folks are on Google because they want to go somewhere else. The search engine fails if you're on the site for more than a few page views. Facebook users can be on the site for hours at a time. In other words, Facebook advertising is more along the lines of television consumption. Google is a phone book.

Do you think that things will always be that way?

A Nielsen "State of the Media" report late last year revealed that Facebook users are 12% more likely to shop online than folks who don't participate in social networking website. That makes sense. Folks who trust sharing personal information with acquaintances have an easier time trusting online merchants.

Facebook generated an operating profit of $1.7 billion on $3.7 billion in revenue last year, and that's with crummy ads. What happens when Facebook actually breaks a sweat and tries to monetise its traffic effectively?

I've only clicked on one Facebook ad over the past few years, as far as I can recall. A local restaurant that I had never heard of was opening a Rodizio-style restaurant for pizza. I was intrigued. I clicked. As more local advertisers flock to Facebook — and ads become less about stopping smoking and more about things around me that jibe with my interests — just imagine how meaty Facebook's growth will be?

Selling Facebook short
Don't underestimate the power of 901 million users, with more than half of them checking the site daily. Don't sell short the 3.2 billion comments and likes that Facebook collects daily. Do you really think this is a fad?

Educated analysts and seasoned investors will laugh at the unsophisticated noobs giddily paying $57.85 for a share of Facebook next week. They laugh because they know how to value a company's past, and using that base to discount the future. However, the simpleton getting a market order filled on Friday afternoon may be just as good at nailing where Facebook's model will be in the future as the sceptics. Since there has never been a site as popular and sticky as Facebook, assumptions are dangerous on both ends of the euphoria spectrum.

Keep that in mind when Facebook emerges — in years if not months — with the last laugh.

A world of opportunity
Facebook has taken the world by storm, including here in Australia.

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A version of this article, written by Rick Munarriz, originally appeared on

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