Privacy setting on Facebook financials to change in 2012

mark zuckerbergA document sent to potential Facebook investors suggests that the social networking company intends hold its initial public offering by mid-2012, according to reports in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times, though there still plenty of ambiguity about Facebook’s plans.

The news came to light in a memo sent to the investors that Goldman Sachs lined up for Facebook. In the memo, Facebook says that it expects to surpass 500 shareholders this year, a key threshold set by the Securities and Exchange Commission for the regulation of private companies. That, in turn, would mean Facebook has to either go public or disclose the same financial information as public companies by April 2012.

It’s possible for a company to cross the threshold without public disclosure, as long as they bring their shareholder number under 500 by the end of the fiscal year. That might support Fortune’s earlier report that Facebook wants to use the Goldman funding to buy back shares from its employees. In other words, Facebook might cross the threshold but then buy back enough shares to go under again. But today’s articles make it sound like that isn’t what Facebook has in mind (though it’s hard to speculate since neither newspaper quotes the memo directly.)

After news leaked about Goldman’s investment in Facebook, there has been plenty of debate about Facebook’s intentions. (The firm reportedly invested $450 million at a $50 billion valuation, and could raise another $1.5 billion from its clients. You can read more about the history of the deal here, including the fact that Goldman only originally planned to invest $300 million.) Does the funding set the stage for an IPO, or is it a way for Facebook to stay private? The memo presents strong evidence in the “IPO” column, though John Coffee, a law professor interviewed by the Journal, notes that Apple and Google both started reporting their financials publicly “well ahead of doing an IPO.”

Some financial information out has already leaked out through the same investor document, which says Facebook made $355 million of profit from $1.2 billion in revenue during the first nine months of 2010. (Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has said that the company isn’t focused on profitability yet.)


VentureBeat is studying mobile marketing automation. Chime in, and we’ll share the data.