Salon.con

The fanciful stylings of an Internet stock offering

Under the OpenIPO scheme, Web surfers submit sealed bids by Internet after making a $2,000 deposit with W.R. Hambrecht. The shares are sold at the highest prices at which all shares can be cleared -- kind of like the way baubles are auctioned off on eBay.

"That's the latest rage, or it's about to become the latest rage. Ordinary folks will get access to IPOs. Instead of institutions. It makes it more democratic," says Ulric Weil, senior technology analyst at the investment bank Friedman, Billings, Ramsey. "Certainly, the guy who comes into the Internet is not as sophisticated, well-trained, or experienced as a major institutional investor -- obviously there is a difference there. But if he's willing to do his homework, he can still get a bead on the merits of this deal."

But such homework is hard to do using the Salon.com prospectus. Like many such documents, the prospectus is an unseemly labyrinth that novices might find difficult to apprehend.

For instance, the prospectus says that Salon.com will "complete a 1 for 2 split of our common stock before this offering is completed" -- that's to say it will merge the number of shares it has into half that amount. But other sections of the prospectus seem to conflict with this halving of the number of outstanding shares, and even employees of W.R. Hambrecht don't seem to know exactly what the "1 for 2 split" means.

"It doesn't add up to me," said one W.R. Hambrecht representative after flipping through the prospectus, consulting another W.R. Hambrecht representative by phone, then referring to the prospectus again. The representative referred SF Weekly to another representative in W.R. Hambrecht's San Francisco offices, who supposedly does understand the prospectus. He did not return our call.

But he needn't have bothered. Any explanation might have distracted from the pleasant, surrealist bliss evoked by the Salon manifesto: Life is a meaningless yet meaningful blur of philandering Republican congressmen, red-ink balance sheets, and half-billion-dollar IPOs.

As surrealist Andre Breton wrote in his Manifesto of Surrealism: "Radio? fine. Syphilis? If you like. Photography? I don't see any reason why not. The cinema? Three cheers for darkened years. War? Gave us a good laugh. The telephone? Hello. Youth? Charming white hair. Try to make me say thank you: 'Thank you.' Thank you."

Or, in the words of Bill Griffith's Zippy, who not long ago shared the columns of the San Francisco Examiner with Salon.com founder and editor David Talbot: "My elbow is going to high school in Carlsbad Caverns.

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