Facebook Inc. could file papers for its initial public offering as early as this coming week, people familiar with the matter said, as anticipation mounts for what is likely to be one of the biggest debuts for a U.S. company.
The deal, seen as defining moment for the latest Web investing boom, could raise as much as $10 billion and value the social network between $75 billion and $100 billion, said people familiar with the matter. A valuation of $75 billion would be below earlier expectations.
The website, which in less than eight years has attracted more than 800 million members, has changed the way people across the globe communicate, from organizing political protests to sharing baby pictures.
The Internet giant is close to picking Morgan Stanley to lead the deal, these people said. Wall Street banks, many of them struggling amid a crimp in trading profits, have been jostling for a leading role in the deal, which could yield them tens of millions of dollars in banker fees, potential new business and bragging rights.
A nod for Morgan Stanley would mark a disappointment for rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc., which a year ago was viewed as having an edge to lead the deal. One person familiar with the matter said that while Morgan Stanley would likely land the coveted "lead-left" spot on an IPO financial filing, Goldman would also likely play a significant role.
Spokespeople for Facebook, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs declined to comment.
Facebook could file documents with the Securities and Exchange Commission as early as this coming Wednesday, said one person familiar with the matter. But that timing is just one scenario Facebook executives are considering, the person said. Executives are also considering filing a few weeks later, the person said.
People familiar with the matter have said the company is targeting an IPO sometime between April and June.
A $10 billion Facebook offering would rank fourth among IPOs for U.S. companies, behind Visa Inc., General Motors Co. and AT&T Wireless, according to Dealogic. It would rank Facebook as the biggest U.S. Internet offering ever, replacing Google Inc., which raised $1.9 billion in 2004 at a $23 billion valuation.
At a $100 billion valuation, Facebook would be worth about the same as McDonald's Corp. and nearly half of Google.
Facebook's revenue is driven by its advertising business, as big brands rush to the site to interact with consumers through display ads and fan pages. Facebook has been able to increase its world-wide advertising revenue from $738 million in 2009 to $3.8 billion in 2011, according to estimates from research firm eMarketer. It isn't known if Facebook is profitable.
Facebook's final valuation will be determined by a variety of factors, people familiar with the matter said, such as investor demand for social media, the IPO market and the health of the European economy.
The IPO will mint a new generation of Silicon Valley millionaires on the level not seen since Google's offering. Some 3,000 people work at Facebook.
An IPO will also test the ability of Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, age 27, to manage a global company whose financial performance will be scrutinized every three months by investors. Mr. Zuckerberg started the company in 2004 out of his Harvard University dorm room. Overall, about 500 million users now log into the site daily, according to Facebook.
Mr. Zuckerberg had been reluctant to push forward with an IPO. People familiar with his thinking said he has been fearful of the damage an IPO could do to the company's culture. He wants employees focused on making great products, not the stock price, they said.
But outside forces are partly pushing his hand. Facebook executives began to realize in 2010 that Facebook would have more than 500 shareholders by the end of 2011, which would trigger a regulatory requirement that Facebook start publicly reporting financial information.
Mr. Zuckerberg decided it made more sense for Facebook to go public and reap some financial benefit from an IPO, rather than stay private but have to release its financial information, said people familiar with his thinking.
Leading the Facebook sale would be a huge win for Morgan Stanley, which last year cemented its position as the top Internet stock underwriter by leading the IPOs of LinkedIn Corp., Groupon Inc., and Zynga Inc. The bank's global tech banking team, led by Michael Grimes and Paul Chamberlain, is also based in Menlo Park.
Facebook would cap a recent wave of Web IPOs, some of which have struggled amid growing investor scrutiny of the new Internet companies. But investors and analysts said now could be a good time for a Facebook offering.
This year, the overall market has risen, and on Friday other Internet stocks rallied on news that Facebook would soon file for a deal. "The excitement around Facebook is still enormous," said Max Wolff, an analyst at GreenCrest Capital, which researches companies going public.
The recent IPO climate "hasn't been particularly strong," said Peter Falvey, co-head of the technology banking group at Morgan Keegan & Co. But Mr. Falvey added that with "the recent stock market strength and maybe some green shoots in the economy, there could be a fortuitous window for Facebook."