Facebook will file to go public tomorrow, in case you missed the rolling thunder bombardment of news articles this week, or in the months preceding. There won't be the faintest reason for the average person to care about this IPO until shares actually start selling months from now, but in the meantime you should steel yourself for endless breathless hype pandemonium. Oh, it's going to be awful.

Facebook aims to raise $5 billion with the offering and has selected Morgan Stanley as its lead underwriter, according to the New York Times, meaning the company dissed Goldman Sachs, who were vying to head the deal. Tomorrow Facebook is exepcted to file an S-1 with the SEC declaring its intent to issue shares; it must still go back and forth with the federal agency to get approval, then get sign off from existing shareholders, then pick a stock exchange (the company has registered the ticker "FB" with both the NASDAQ and New York Stock Exchange), then do a "road show" to pitch institutional investors (like fund managers), settle on a final price, and commence trading. (There are decent overviews of the process here and here.) It will take at least another three months to get to a price on Facebook shares, according to International Financing Review.

Facebook is supposed to keep its mouth shut the whole time in what is known as a "quiet period," enforced by the SEC. This silence, naturally, only drives the press more wild. If the IPOs for Groupon and Zynga are any indication, you can expect frenzied speculation and reporting on ultimately inconsequential things like

  • When, exactly, is this S-1 filed? (With Facebook, speculation over this climaxed today.)
  • When, exactly, does the road show start?
  • WHAT ARE THEY SAYING IN THERE?? (Nothing that speaks as loudly or as authoritatively as what they tell the SEC.)
  • When will they price?
  • Will they price above or below expectations? (As though finance industry expectations of the price were meaningful like the actual price.)
  • Are they oversubscribed enough to "cherry pick" their initial institutional buyers? (It's called going public for a reason; they'll have to give up control over the buyers sooner or later.)
  • When is the first day of trading?
  • How much will shares pop above the IPO price? (The company only gets to keep the IPO price, pop or not.)

Since Facebook is the biggest IPO in years, all of these questions and more will be debated endlessly and treated with staggeringly undeserved gravity in the press. Financial journalists love to break this sort of small-ball news because they can - their regular sources tend to be well informed on these questions, and revealing these sorts of dates and numbers tends not to piss anyone off, so the information isn't too hard to come by from all kinds of sources. Yes, there are all kinds of interesting potential macroeconomic ramifications of the Facebook IPO. You can start thinking about those once Facebook shares are actually trading, and there is thus actual information to deal with. In the meantime, good luck avoiding the noise. (It will be enough to drive you to Facebook!)