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golden-question-mark-hands-1029017jpg-129c397103-pixelsFacebook doesn’t plan to go public for years, so it’s trying to keep employees happy in the meantime by letting them sell stock to Russian investor Digital Sky Technologies. Employees who own common stock can sell for $14.77 per share, starting now and continuing until sometime in August, DST tells me. The investment holding firm has previously bought around two percent of Facebook’s investor-class preferred stock for  $200 million, and it plans to spend up to $100 million more buying stock from employees.

The question for Facebook’s nearly 1,000 employees (at least the ones who own stock), is whether they should sell now or not. The price is non-negotiable and DST has an exclusive deal to buy the stock. Employees cannot shop it around and try to get a higher price. But at least for those who want cash now, they have an option. Facebook first introduced the concept of letting employees sell stock last year, but suspended the program last fall as the economic recession grew worse — and as Facebook’s own value stayed murky. Here’s what chief executive Mark Zuckerberg says today:

While individuals must make their own decisions about participating in this program, I’m pleased that the price DST is offering is much greater than the price originally considered last fall. This is recognition of Facebook’s growth and progress towards making the world more open and connected.

The change in price is due to Facebook’s recently rising revenues. In 2008, the company brought in slightly less than $300 million from a mix of traditional and experimental advertising services and was not profitable. However, in 2009 it began seeing upticks in the new-fangled advertising options, including self-service ads popular with performance marketers, and ads that direct users to do things like join advertisers’ fan pages and events. In March, the company said it was beating 2008 revenues by 70 percent, leading us to calculate a 2009 revenue run-rate of more than $500 million. Other reporters have since confirmed this number. Most recently, Facebook board member Marc Andreessen said he expects the company will make billions in future years. Facebook itself expects its revenues to gradually rise as its user base continues to grow (it currently has 225 million monthly active users worldwide). It is designing the site to encourage people to share more and more information, then using data about people and what they share to better target ads.

So, despite many pundits doubting Facebook’s viability as a business over the past several years, the company seems to be coming into its own. Employees should think twice about selling any stock, because it looks set to go up in value.

DST, for its part, probably doesn’t want me saying that. While the common stock it’s buying from employees now doesn’t come with the sorts of investor privileges that its privileged stock did — typically, anti-dilution clauses in the event of future rounds, first liquidation preferences, etc. — it clearly wants any sort of Facebook stock it can get.

For those wondering about Facebook’s overall valuation, here’s a little more. The common stock sale price implies a company valuation of $6.5 billion, while DST’s preferred stock purchase earlier this year valued the company at $10 billion. These numbers may seem puzzling if you’re not familiar with the nuances of private company stock structures — the two numbers are not mutually exclusive. Common stock is typically worth less than preferred stock precisely because it does not come with investor rights and protections that make the preferred class of stock more valuable.

A final note about today’s news. As Zuckerberg suggests in his statement, the company’s valuation fell last year compared to 2007 when it raised $240 million from  Microsoft at a $15 billion preferred stock valuation. But last summer, some former executives were going around selling (or at least trying to sell) their stock at reduced prices. Numbers I heard from potential purchases put them selling stock based on a $3 billion company valuation. It is clear today that those people could have made more from DST if they had waited. What about senior management currently at Facebook? Sources close to the deal tell me executives have some sort of separate program, and they’re not part of the DST deal now.

[Golden hands image via featurepics.]

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