By Alexei Oreskovic
SAN FRANCISCO, Aug 2 (Reuters) - Shares of Facebook Inc dipped below $20 for the first time on Thursday, pummeled by ongoing doubts about its growth prospects, a string of recent executive departures, and the Aug. 16 expiration of a lockup period on insiders' share sales.
The stock hit a low of $19.82 in heavy trading on Thursday afternoon. It has now lost almost half its value since debuting at $38 in May in the largest IPO ever to emerge from Silicon Valley.
"The sentiment on this thing is so negative," said Topeka Capital Markets analyst Victor Anthony. "I think this thing may continue to tick down until you see some sort of meaningful catalyst which unfortunately may not show until third-quarter earnings."
On Wednesday, Facebook's director of platform partnerships, Ethan Beard, and the director of platform marketing, Katie Mitic, each separately announced plans to leave the company. They represent the latest of several departures -- including that of Facebook's chief technology officer in June -- since the IPO.
Facebook's first tier of lock-up restrictions go away on Aug. 16, when about 271 million shares will be available for trading, with another 243 million shares set to become available for trading between mid-October and mid-November.
But the day most investors are bracing for is Nov. 14, when more than 1.2 billion shares will suddenly be available for trading.
The imminent lock-up expiration also means that Wall Street analysts who participated in the Facebook IPO will once again go quiet, for a 30-day period, potentially creating more uncertainty in a stock that has experienced one of the rockiest market debuts in memory.
Of the 36 Wall Street analysts covering Facebook, 20 belong to firms that were involved in the IPO.
The first American company to debut with a market valuation of more than $100 billion, Facebook has fallen out of favor on Wall Street as investors fret about its slowing revenue growth.
In the second quarter, Facebook reported revenue growth of 32 percent, compared with the more than 100 percent growth it delivered at the same time last year.
Facebook shares were down 4.6 percent at $19.91 on Thursday afternoon, off the earlier low at $19.82. (Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Maureen Bavdek, Tim Dobbyn and Matthew Lewis)
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