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Long-awaited Google auction begins Friday
Updated: 2004-08-13 11:01

Google Inc. is forging ahead with its highly anticipated $3.3 billion initial public stock offering, declaring that its auction will open on Friday despite concerns over market conditions and a recent series of missteps.

The auction, which will serve as a prelude to perhaps the largest U.S. IPO of the year, will commence at 9 a.m. EDT on Friday, the Mountain View, California-based search engine said in a statement on its Web site on Thursday.

Google did not specify when the auction would end, only that it would announce the price of the IPO next week. Google estimated its shares would price between $108 and $135 each, which could value the company at more than $36 billion.

The decision to push ahead comes as an interview with the company's co-founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, appears in a newly published issue of Playboy magazine. Securities regulators have "examined" the article, which could potentially have violated the so-called "quiet period" that limits communication by company executives ahead of their IPO, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The SEC declined to comment.

Google's auction lands during a rough patch for IPOs, with the list of withdrawn or delayed deals growing longer by the day. As of Wednesday, 33 IPOs had been postponed or withdrawn, according to Thomson Financial, with more than half the deals this quarter pricing below the low end of their estimated range.

Google, the Web's most popular search engine and former media darling, has also developed an image problem as it heads into its long-awaited IPO.

A complex IPO auction process, concerns over growth, a bare-bones roadshow and a spate of regulatory filings have put the company in the doghouse, alienating some investors and generating a barrage of negative media coverage.

"By trying to be unique and be cute, they've essentially alienated people," said Ben Holmes, managing member of Protege Funds LLC, an investment firm in Boulder, Colorado.

The latest twist is an interview that the founding pair conducted with Playboy just days before they made their IPO filing on April 29.

Brin and Page, asked how the company might change after the IPO, responded that they were thinking hard about preserving their culture.

I learned that you have to pay a lot of attention to any company that's changing rapidly," Page said in the Playboy interview, saying that Google would be different from many of the dot-com boom companies that went bust. "A lot of those companies were around for less than a year or two before they went public. We've been around for five."

Companies typically avoid media interviews once they decide to pursue a public offering to avoid violating securities laws designed to keep a company from disclosing details about itself not contained in its prospectus and to keep it from hyping its stock ahead of its offering.

Earlier this year, Salesforce.com Inc. was forced to delay its IPO after the company and its CEO Marc Benioff were featured in a New York Times article.

Google is using a modified version of a "Dutch auction" to sell its shares to prospective investors, saying it chose that method to give everyday investors better access to its stock.

In the auction, Google will take bids from hopeful investors, who will need to outline how many shares they want to buy and at what price.

In a typical auction, the offering is launched at the highest price at which all of the shares offered can be sold to potential investors. But Google has left itself some wiggle room, saying it could price the IPO lower in order to get a wider distribution of its shares.

Investors must have a "bidder ID" obtained through registration that ended on Thursday to participate in the auction and an account with one of the 28 securities firms underwriting the sale.

Google, which declined to comment, did not disclose how many potential investors had registered for a bidder ID.

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