PRIVATE TRADING

Shares of Facebook, the world’s most popular social web site, can be traded even though it isn’t a public company. The place to do that is SecondMarket.com, which provides a market for so-called “illiquid assets.”

Unlisted shares are fairly common. Many companies issue shares to their employees even though the company itself is not publicly listed for trading. The reasons are simple enough: they want to reward accomplishments and provide

incentives for the day when the company goes public. Of course, many companies never go public. So what can you do with the shares? It turns out they may be worth something after all.

Shares of Facebook recently traded on SecondMarket for $50 apiece, which a little arithmetic puts the company’s value at $25 billion. That’s more than Yahoo and ten times more than AOL. (Facebook’s privately traded shares have doubled since December.)

Such off-market trading tends to be thin and difficult to track. Demand often outpaces supply. Nevertheless, real money changes hands.

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