Social networking site Facebook has landed a cash injection from a major Wall Street bank which values the company at 50 billion US dollars (£32 billion), it was reported today.
Goldman Sachs and Digital Sky Technologies (DST), a Russian investment firm and existing Facebook shareholder, have invested 500 million US dollars (320 million) in the popular website, according to the New York Times.
The move places the company at twice the value of internet giant Yahoo - and roughly equal to well-established names such as aerospace firm Boeing and Kraft Foods. Google, by contrast, is valued at 190 billion US dollars (122 billion).
Facebook, which has more than half a billion users worldwide, has resisted floating shares since it was founded nearly seven years ago, given the public scrutiny which comes with such a move.
The company, founded by chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, has out-muscled Google in the last two years, overtaking its rival to become the most-visited website last year, according to Experian Hitwise, a web traffic-tracker.
The deal with Goldman - the first Wall Street bank to invest in the website - and DST caps a strong 12 months for the company, which has added some 500 million users and, according to analysts' estimates, generated about 2 billion US dollars (1.3 billion) in revenues.
It also reflects the significant speed at which the company's valuation has soared. Venture capital firm Accel Partners paid less than 13 million US dollars (8 million) for 10% of Facebook in 2005.
Goldman will raise up to 1.5 billion US dollars (970 million) from investors for Facebook as part of the deal, according to the New York Times.
Analyst Lou Kerner of Wedbush Morgan said if Facebook were to go public, the California-based firm could trade at 100 billion US dollars (65 billion).
But a stock market flotation does not look likely for the time being as Mr Zuckerberg, 26, recently told flagship American news show 60 Minutes he did not see selling the company or going public as an end goal.
Mr Kerner said: "Companies go public to get access to capital, and Facebook clearly has access to capital."
Facebook is free to use and makes money from selling highly-targeted ads. Research firm eMarketer estimates that Facebook generated 1.29 billion US dollars (833 million) in online ad revenue in 2010 and will rake in 1.76 billion (1.1 billion) in 2011.
Digital Sky Technologies - together with sister company Mail.ru, which had its flotation in London in November - already owned about 10% of Facebook.
Microsoft also owns a small stake in Facebook. It invested 240 million US dollars (155 million) in Facebook in 2007 in exchange for a 1.6% stake.