Facebook: Peter Thiel cashes in stake for $396m

Peter Thiel raised $400m from his share sale last week Peter Thiel raised $400m from his share sale last week

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One of Facebook's earliest backers has sold most of his stake in the social network, making a substantial profit.

Peter Thiel, a venture capitalist and Paypal co-founder, cashed in 20.1 million shares, raising $395.8m (£251m) last week, official filings state.

Last week was the first time since Facebook's float that early backers could cash in their shares.

The value of Facebook shares have fallen sharply since their debut two months ago.

Mr Thiel had already sold shares worth more than $640m during the flotation.

Last week, Facebook released 271.1 million shares as the first so-called "lock-up" stopping early investors and employees selling their shares expired.

Another 1.44 billion shares, owned by early investors and Facebook staff, are set to be freed up by the end of November as five additional lock-ups expire.

Flotation woes

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Shares in the social network last night closed at $20.01, almost half the $38 that they floated at in May.

Despite the shares' dramatic fall, Mr Thiel, who owned around 10% of the firm thanks to his $500,000 investment in 2004, sold his shares for an average of $19.73.

Mr Thiel, who has sold 80% of his holding, according to his filing with US regulator, the Securities and Exchange Commission, still owns around 7 million shares.

Filings from venture capital firm Accel Partners, another early Facebook investor, indicated that it distributed over 50 million shares to its limited partners after the lock-up expired. It is not clear, however, whether the partners then sold the shares.

Data from financial information firm Markit indicates that the number of investors betting on the shares to fall further - so-called short interest - in Facebook is now at record levels.

According to Markit, 15.9% of the shares available to trade in the company are now being held by investors betting on a further share price fall.

"This is the highest it has been since Facebook floated," said Simon Colvin at Markit.

"It's not just over the past couple of days since the lock-up expired, but reflects a longer term negative sentiment."

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