Google flotation still dogged by last minute complications

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The Independent Online

Google's public share offering is expected to go ahead as early as today following a request for final regulatory approval from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

Google's public share offering is expected to go ahead as early as today following a request for final regulatory approval from the US Securities and Exchange Commission.

But the problems which have wiped much of the shine off the flotation of the world's most popular internet search engine persisted right up to the last minute, with some market analysts saying further delays were not out of the question.

In its latest official filing, Google said it hoped the SEC would give the final green light to its initial public offering by the end of official trading in New York last night - a deadline that came and went without SEC response. At the same time it acknowledged that the SEC had opened what it called an "informal inquiry" into the company's suspected failure to register 28 million shares sold to employees and consultants since 2001.

Google said it could face "fines or other sanctions" if the registration process is found wanting. It avoided any suggestion that those sanctions could include a postponement of its IPO, but it did not definitively rule it out, either.

The SEC inquiry is the latest in a flurry of setbacks that have forced Google to amend its flotation prospectus and caused analysts and would-be investors to think twice about the once-golden reputation of the company's management team.

In a difficult market for tech stocks - they have lost 20 per cent of their value in the past six months - many analysts also believe the initial share price range of $108-$135 (£59-£74) that Google was aiming for may prove over-optimistic.

No official figures have leaked out concerning Google's unorthodox Dutch auction, which has been under way since the end of last week.

Unofficial soundings of investor opinion, however, suggest something less than a stampede for what was not so long ago heralded as the harbinger of a full-scale, tech-sector revival.

"It doesn't seem to be a frenzy," Michael Cohen, the director of research at Pacific American Securities, told The San Jose Mercury News. "If institutions are going to bid, it'll probably be low."

That perception was shared by an informal Google IPO chat site on the internet, and by the financial web publication Motley Fool. The Mercury News' own informal poll of readers - who include Silicon Valley's biggest movers and shakers - showed only 20 per cent buying into Google and 80 per cent saying they would steer clear.

Even if the SEC gives its blessing, the thinking in some quarters is that Google might leave the share auction open a little longer to encourage a greater volume of bids. It might not set an opening price and launch trading until tomorrow.

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