By Colin Barr
January 15, 2011

It’s easy to see at this bubbly social-tech moment how you might want to buy Groupon. But would you really want to hold it?

The question comes to mind off Friday’s report that the scorching online coupon site is working on an initial public offering that could come as soon as this spring and might value the company at an altitude sickness-inducing $15 billion. Goldman Sachs (GS), it is said, wants to lead the IPO.

The IPO talk started after Groupon sold $1 billion worth of stock to investors including two firms that you might not think of as the usual suspects for a new technology hypefest — those leading purveyors of the buy-and-hold school, the giant mutual fund houses Fidelity and T. Rowe Price.

But no one wants to be left out of the social technology investing boom or bubble or whatever it is, particularly after last week’s Goldman Sachs-Facebook extravaganza. And the fund companies’ participation means there’s a chance you could get into Groupon even before the IPO, if you can stand the excitement.

Fidelity, as Reuters pointed out last month, tends to put its investments in flavor-of-the-day tech companies in private funds for its hugest customers. But T. Rowe Price has previously given retail investors exposure to hot names through existing funds.

The firm’s $7 billion New Horizon fund, for instance, bought $15 million worth of convertible preferred shares in Twitter in September 2009. It continued to hold them as of September 2010, the last time it revealed its holdings in a regulatory filing.

T. Rowe Price didn’t respond to a request for comment, but it stands to reason that the New Horizon fund or another T. Rowe Price fund that bought in on Twitter – the $2.9 billion Science & Technology fund – might well end up with some Groupon shares. If so, you’ll be able to tell for sure next month, when the funds put out their next quarterly holdings list.

This brings us back to the question of whether you’ll want to be holding Groupon once the clamor dies down. There have been reports lately that the company’s business is even bigger than anyone knew, but there aren’t any hard numbers to go on and there are a lot of questions, let’s say, about whether Groupon’s success is a fad.

In any case, there are going to be ways to buy Groupon, and if you do so of course you can always sell later. Just don’t, as the buy and holders say, try to time the market.

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