August 12, 2004 3:58 PM PDT
Google revealed in Playboy interview?
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, the two Stanford University computer science grads who started Google six years ago, granted an interview to Playboy magazine a week before they filed for their $2.7 billion IPO in April, according to Playboy's Web site. Now, their interview has surfaced in Playboy's September issue, which is already being shipped to subscribers and will be on newsstands Friday.
IPO analysts say the article could raise concerns with the Securities and Exchange Commission that Google has violated its mandatory "quiet period." Despite great efforts by Google executives to keep mum since the filing, an interview granted before the official registration could still mean a delay of the stock offering.
"The SEC has put together the quiet period so the market can't be conditioned, so there shouldn't be anything that circulates other than material fact," said David Menlow, president of IPO Financial Network, a securities research specialist.
"Any interview before Google filed should have raised the arm hairs of the company's attorneys," he said.
In the interview, Page and Brin spoke extensively about Google's business, including on whether Google considering selling out:
"No. We think we're an important company, and we're dedicated to doing this over the long term," Page said. "We like being independent."
Word of the interview's release has come within days of Google's expected IPO, an auction-style offering. Though no date has officially been set, the company is ending registration for investors Thursday, granting no more bidder IDs, and has said the offering will begin "soon thereafter."
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Yet the luster of the company's highly anticipated public offering has been clouded in recent weeks. News affecting the offering includes a recent stock retraction offer, potentially weak demand from institutional investors, technical delays with the bidding process, and a settlement with archrival Yahoo that will equate to charges of between $260 million and $290 million in the third quarter.
"It's just one question after another; much of it will lead to doubt in the general investing public," Menlow said.
Yet the Google Playboy article could be benign and not raise any red flags with the SEC. The article is promoted on the Playboy Web site as "a candid conversation with America's newest billionaires about their oddball company, how they tamed the Web and why their motto is 'Don't be evil.'" If people want to read it, they must buy the magazine, it says.
Matt Swartz, a securities lawyer from Venable, said that as long as Google is not effectively selling the IPO, it would stay out of hot water.
"The more they talk about future prospects and the more they talk about the IPO, the more a problem it would be," Swartz said.
Other companies, including Webvan and Salesforce.com, have been punished by the SEC for speaking out during their quiet period. For example, Webvan's CEO gave a conference call that was promotional, and the SEC forced it to delay the IPO.
Salesforce had to go into a "cooling off" period after a high-profile article was published in The New York Times. It also postponed its IPO after the SEC requested that it realign its accounting methods for its sales commissions.
The SEC could not be immediately reached for comment. Google declined to comment.
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