LinkedIn – The Latest and Greatest Scam by Morgan Stanley and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch.

If there’s one thing we’ve all learned in the aftermath of the financial crisis, it’s that stiffing your client is not a crime. Not if you’re an investment bank.

Deutsche Bank, according to a recent report by the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, sold its clients subprime mortgage bonds that one of its own traders at the time described as “pigs.” Goldman Sachs took unseemly advantage of unsuspecting clients to offload its most toxic assets in 2007 and 2008. During the subprime bubble, this kind of behavior was par for the course.

It still is, apparently. On Thursday, LinkedIn, an Internet company that connects business professionals, became the first major American social media company to go public. The company had hired Morgan Stanley and Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch division to manage the I.P.O. process. After gauging market demand — which is what they’re paid to do — the investment bankers priced the shares at $45. The 7.84 million shares it sold raised $352 million for the company. For this, the bankers were paid 7 percent of the deal as their fee.

For a small company with less than $16 million in profits last year, $352 million in the bank sounds pretty wonderful, doesn’t it? But it really wasn’t wonderful at all. When LinkedIn’s shares started trading on the New York Stock Exchange, they opened not at $45, or anywhere near it. The opening price was $83 a share, some 84 percent higher than the I.P.O. price. By the time the clock had struck noon, the stock had vaulted to more than $120 a share, before settling down to $94.25 at the market’s close. The first-day gain was close to 110 percent.

I have no doubt that most everyone at LinkedIn was thrilled to see the run-up; most executives at start-ups usually are. An I.P.O. is an important marker for any company. And, of course, the executives themselves are suddenly rich. But, in reality, LinkedIn was scammed by its bankers.

The fact that the stock more than doubled on its first day of trading — something the investment bankers, with their fingers on the pulse of the market, absolutely must have known would happen — means that hundreds of millions of additional dollars that should have gone to LinkedIn wound up in the hands of investors that Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch wanted to do favors for. Most of those investors, I guarantee, sold the stock during the morning run-up. It’s the easiest money you can make on Wall Street.

As Eric Tilenius, the general manager of Zynga, wrote on Facebook: “A huge opening-day pop is not a sign of a successful I.P.O., but rather a massively mispriced one. Bankers are rewarding their friends and themselves instead of doing their fiduciary duty to their clients.”

There is nothing wrong with a small “pop” in the aftermath of an I.P.O.; investors, after all, don’t want to buy a stock that is going to go down immediately. But during the Internet bubble of the 1990s, the phenomenon of investment bankers wildly underpricing I.P.O.’s so that money could be diverted to favored investors got completely out of hand — stocks would sometimes rise 500 percent on the first day. It was obscene.

Indeed, most business journalists writing about the LinkedIn deal focused on the first-day run-up as evidence that we’ve entered another Internet bubble. But over at the Business Insider blog, Henry Blodget — who knows a thing or two about bad behavior on Wall Street — had the perfect analogy for what the banks had done to LinkedIn.

Suppose, he wrote, your trusted real estate agent persuaded you to sell your house for $1 million. Then, the next day, the same agent sold the same house for the new owner for $2 million. “How would you feel if your agent did that?” he asked. That, he concluded, is what Merrill and Morgan did to LinkedIn.

It’s worth remembering that most of the young Internet companies with those eye-popping I.P.O.’s back in the day are long gone. With their flawed business models, maybe they were doomed from the start — but the cash they left on the table at the I.P.O. might have allowed at least a few of them to survive.

Similarly, LinkedIn is still a fragile enterprise. Its business model remains unproved. It is going to have to grow awfully fast to justify its stock price. Its executives may yet rue the day they let themselves be sold down the river by their investment bankers. LinkedIn is supposed to be the client, but it was treated like the mark.

Ever since the financial crisis, investment bankers have been constantly questioned about whether they have any larger social purpose besides making money. What they invariably say is that they play a critical role in capital formation, meaning that they help companies raise the money they need to grow and prosper.

The LinkedIn deal suggests something darker. The crisis hasn’t changed them a bit. They’re still just in it for themselves.

Guest post by By JOE NOCERA, courtesy of the NYT.

Advertisements

Top 100 Brands in the World Chart

A very nice chart by Millward Brown Optimor, the BrandZ Top 100 Most Valuable Global Brands ranking analyzes the world’s leading brands and the economic and competitive dynamics that influence value fluctuations. A very nice comprehensive annual ranking of brand value, and focuses on consumer-facing brands, rather than corporate brands. The chart, called the top 100 chart can be located on this page.

Although I believe that Facebook has a place on this list – I did a post a while back making a case for them. I believe it is still the case. And I also believe that Twitter isn’t too far behind all of this either.

“You Probably Just Used the Biggest Brand in the World and Didn’t Even Know it…and it is NOT Google.” Posted Jan. 4th, 2011 here.

The End of An Era – Music Companies, ‘cloud’ services and the ISP’s are laughing all the way to the Bank, courtesy of you and me!

Amazon’s Cloud Drive, Google’s BetaMusic, iTunes upcoming ‘cloud’ offering, current subscription based music ‘cloud’ services and music ‘lockers’ ( eMusic, Spotify, Rhapsody, Thumbplay Music, mSpot, MP3Tunes, and others) are all similar in many ways.

There are slight differences in the cost and the amount of storage for free that you get initially. After that, users will find the old fashioned way we now store and playback music might in fact have been the best and most cost efficient after all.

Today, we all have mp3’s or m4p’s (iTunes) stored somewhere on our computers or in an external hard drive or both. We have our iPod and other devices to playback these files. Load up a playlist and take them with you. Soon, the above mentioned services will offer us the ability to ship all or some of our music collection to what effectively is a hard drive outside our house or computer – essentially letting them live ‘over there’ or wherever that service lives, be it Amazon, Google or Apple. Load up a playlist and playback the music just as we do now.

A few things will change however that will drastically alter not how or what we listen to but what it will cost us to listen to what we now playback for free. And the changes are subtle but substantial. And these changes are all designed to generate money, a lot of it, for 3 separate entities; the music cloud service of your choice, the music companies and your local ISP.

What has been an essentially free activity for all of us (creating and playing back music on our device of choice locally), will now very quickly become an expensive one, remotely. The change has been slowly evolving – with the ISP’s like Comcast, Time-Warner and others that supply us leading the way. They have all decided to ‘cap’ and meter our bandwidth usage under various tiered plans. Just like we get our water and electricity usage metered, so will our ‘internet’ usage.

And that’s old news – I’m not telling you anything you have not already heard before. Soon, we will keenly be aware of how much data we will be using monthly. And now, the new music ‘cloud’ offerings will present us with tiered pricing plans to store our music monthly as well. You might have 10 gigs of music (which is NOT a heck of a lot, personally) today that you want to store on Google’s Beta Music Cloud Drive ( they are just being used as one example). For me, I’ve got a ton more than that and I add to that monthly. So initially, I’ll choose a plan for 10 gigs, but I am 100% sure over time, I will eventually double that.

In addition to those charges I want to turn on my ‘cloud’ player and listen to some tunes being played back at my home, through my PC piped into my speakers in the house. Well that used to be free when I loaded up my player locally on my PC. Now with my house being metered, here’s a rough idea of what I could be faced with.

1GB streamed per month = a little more than half an hour of music per day
3GB streamed per month = about 2 hours of music per day
5GB streamed per month = about 3.1 hours of music per day

For music aficionados, that is not a lot of time spent listening to my music. Now mind you, I don’t have to use a cloud service to listen locally – I can continue doing what I do now. But that also means I’ve got to keep a duplicate set of files. And it does not include any bandwidth for any other activities on the Internet during the month I engage in. If you have a iPhone or other device that plays back music, sure you can stream your collection from that same cloud service, but wait, there’s a data cap on your phone too. But wait, there’s more. The new Chrome notebook offers a plan too when you are NOT connected to WiFi – and it’s not cheap:

• Free 100MB per month (what you get with the first two years of ownership under the current plan): 1 hour and 45 minutes of music playback for an entire month
• $10 for an unlimited day pass: listen all day
• $20 for 1GB of data in a given month: a little over half hour of music per day
• $35 for 3GB of data in a given month: nearly two hours of music per day
• $50 for 5GB of data in a given month: a little over three hours of music per day

All of this cost and metering does not include monthly cloud ‘subscription’ costs. Put it all together and you might be looking at some heavy fees every month that you don’t currently pay storing and playing back your music collection locally or playing back on the road through your iPhone, etc.

Now I am a big cloud advocate – there are some big advantages clearly in storing your collection outside of your house. The biggest single advantage I can think of is a disaster – and they DO happen. Replacing a 60gig collection is not only time consuming and expensive but just go and try to remember what was in your collection of say 40,000 songs – good luck! This alone is reason enough to consider storing your collection remotely. Other disadvantages include getting the songs up there to start and you don’t want to move the collection once you are there. Ever try moving 60gigs quickly – there is no quickly. So choose your service very carefully!

While all of these new music services sound great and offer us new and improved ways to listen to our music, I can’t help wondering if one day a few years back the ISP’s and the music industry got together in one big Hotel room and figured this out as a way to get back all of the lost revenue that the ‘Napster’, ‘Kaaza’ and ‘Limewire’ era sucked out of them. Maybe they will get the last laugh after all. Here’s a better one – how would a Netflix for example, replicate a ‘cloud’ locker storage scenario for movies I might purchase? Could it? Just think of THAT cloud storage plan!! Ouch!

13 Movie Online Services is WAY too many. (PPV Part 2)

Netflix vs. Google TV 2.0 PPV (powered by Honeycomb 3.1) vs. YouTube rentals vs. iTunes vs cable PPV vs VUDU vs. Blockbuster OnDemand vs Facebook OnDemand vs BigStar Movies vs CinemaNow OnDemand vs. Alphaline ( Sears/Roxio) vs. Redbox (due 2011) vs. Flixster via Warner Bros. vs anyone else ?

What happens when the airlines have a fare war? You know, you can fly from NY to L.A. for $xx.xx and then the next thing you know, another airline tops that price by $ 20.00? Or gives you a free bag to carry on board? All of a sudden 5 or more airlines have the same special going on. Who do you fly with? Decisions, decisions… It all begins to seem and look the same to you. You get to the same destination, same approximate times, using the same type of transportation, in the air for just about the same money. Who suffers? Ultimately the carriers do.
Meet the carriers. Not the airlines, but the carriers of movies online. I count thirteen (13) of them – eleven (11) of them are live as we speak. All boasting the same movies for the most part for the same prices. All rentable at the same time for about the same amount of time. And I’m not even counting Redbox as an online rentable service…yet. What’s a consumer to do – who do you choose? And why. Do you ‘subscribe’ to a Netflix monthly or do you pick off a film on a one-off basis from another provider. More importantly, how do all of these guys begin to differentiate themselves from each other? How and where do they market themselves? Netflix is clearly the 900lb gorilla today. I guess iTunes is # 2. But beyond them, I can’t really tell who’s in third place. But more importantly, do I really care? Do I need3 or 5 or 7 similar services? On top of all this, I have Verizon’s FIOS cable service at home with thousands of movies to choose from to watch on any given day/hour.

I have licensed movies before from each of the studios and it was no easy task. Number one, its VERY expensive. Figure an upfront fee to be paid to play, maybe between $500k-$1m. That’s just for starters. Then there are the guarantees against each title licensed. Therefore as a provider of online fare, you’ve got to re-coup that fee with a certain number of minimum rentals or turns of the gate so to speak. With nearly 13 services out there plus cable choices, I’m going to take a guess here a few will not make it. Not only must you guarantee upfront cash, you also must explain how you are going to market the studios films, how you will digitally protect them from piracy ( good luck on that one) and how you will separate yourself from the rest of the online movie ‘noise’. All of this and then compete with the new ‘premium’ $30.00 a pop cable TV onDemand offering ( not that I think that’s going to be too successful – it’s the least of these companies problems).
However, the one issue I have with all these services is this: I am unable to save ANYTHING I purchase or rent for viewing later on a rainy day. If I had a ‘digital’ locker – someplace to hold what I spend my money on to see so I can view it later (more than 24hrs later), that might sway me to use that service ALL THE TIME.