By Alexei Oreskovic
(Reuters) - Facebook, the world's largest Internet social network, is preparing for a initial public stock offering next year, according to a source familiar with the matter.
Facebook is exploring raising $10 billion, the Wall Street Journal said on Monday. It hopes the offering will value the company at more than $100 billion, according to WSJ, which first reported the story.
Facebook's Chief Financial Officer, David Ebersman, had discussed a public float with Silicon Valley bankers but founder and Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg had not decided on any terms and his plans could change, the Journal said.
The social network, which now claims more than 800 million members after seven years of explosive growth, has not selected bankers to manage what would be a very closely watched IPO. But it had drafted an internal prospectus and was ready at any moment to pull the IPO trigger, the Journal cited people familiar with the matter as saying.
At $100 billion valuation, the company started by Zuckerberg in a Harvard dorm room would have double the valuation of Hewlett-Packard, the Journal said.
A formal S-1 filing could come before the end of the year, though nothing was decided, the newspaper added.
A Facebook representative declined to comment.
Silicon Valley start-ups have this year begun to test investor appetite for a new wave of dotcoms. If it does debut in 2012, Facebook's IPO would dwarf that of any other dotcom waiting to go public.
"Farmville" creator Zynga has filed for an IPO of up to $1 billion. In November, daily deals service Groupon debuted with much fanfare, only to plunge below its IPO price within weeks.
LinkedIn and Pandora are now also trading significantly below the levels their stocks reached during their public debuts earlier this year.
Facebook has become one of the world's most popular Web destinations, challenging established companies such as Google Inc and Yahoo Inc for consumers' online time and for advertising dollars.
Facebook does not disclose its financial results, but a source familiar with the situation told Reuters earlier this year that the company's revenue in the first six months of 2011 doubled year-on-year to $1.6 billion.
Eric Feng, a former partner at venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers who now runs social-networking site Erly.com, said that the cash Facebook will get in an IPO would allow them to make more acquisitions and refine or work on new projects, such as a rumored-Facebook phone or a netbook.
Having tradeable stock will also allow Facebook to attract more engineering talent who might have been more attracted to the company in earlier days when it was growing faster but now perhaps might be attracted to other companies. "It'll be a powerful bullet for them," said Feng.
Investors have been increasingly eager to buy shares of Facebook and other fast-growing but privately-held Internet social networking companies on special, secondary-market exchanges.
Facebook said in January that it will exceed 500 shareholders this year, and that in accordance with SEC regulations, it will file public financial reports no later than April 30, 2012.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic in San Francisco, with additional reporting by Sarah McBride and Vidya Loganathan; editing by Carol Bishopric)