I have gained a small reputation here as a Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) opponent.
My March story saying Facebook faced an unexpected battlefield over privacy, my warnings that the attention economy was peaking and that Facebook was facing a perfect storm of criticism were followed by a rally that took the shares as high as $217 in July.
By Christmas, of course, Mark Zuckerberg fans had coal in their stockings, as the shares fell to a low of $124. They’ve since been on the rise, opening for trade at about $144 on Jan. 10.
There’s a story behind that.
Elites Don’t Matter
I followed up my own stories by retreating from Facebook. Elite opinion followed, and users were offered detailed instructions about how to leave the service, even how to permanently delete Facebook data.
But it’s not that easy as I learned at my neighborhood Christmas party.
I made cookies. I went to the church we usually meet at for the party, but it was closed. I was eventually directed to a nearby storefront and told the group hadn’t updated its own Web site in years — “everyone” knew the group was “only” communicating by Facebook.
It’s a lot easier to set up your group to communicate on Facebook than to build even a simple Web site. Even though they know Facebook is scraping and re-selling their data, the editor of my favorite local news site still does his personal updates on Facebook. The same with the guy who fixes my computers.
The point is that elite opinion is one thing and mass markets are something else. Analysts are expecting Facebook to report $16.4 billion in revenue for the fourth quarter, about $48 billion for the year, against $35 billion in 2017. Last quarter, Facebook brought 40% of its revenue to the net income line.
Facebook shares are now selling for about 22 times earnings, but, if analysts are right, FB will earn $7.36 per share for all of 2018, giving it a price to earnings multiple of about 19.5. Facebook invested early in cloud and is now one of the world’s five “Cloud Czars,” dominating the field, and it still had about $40 billion in cash and securities on the books at the end of September — up from $11 billion the previous December.
At its Jan. 10 market cap of $414 billion, Facebook is worth almost twice as much as AT&T (NYSE:T), two and a half times as much as Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) or Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), and 10 times more than CBS (NYSE:CBS) and Viacom (NASDAQ:VIAB) combined. If filling its clouds with data and traffic were really a problem it’s a problem Facebook could easily buy its way out of — and its financial heft is such that some big acquisition, in some direction, should be expected.
Either that or a fat dividend check.
The Bottom Line on FB Stock
The bad news is in Facebook stock. People know the risks of leaving data with Facebook or its Instagram and Whatsapp units. They leave data there anyway.
Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) hopes to disrupt Facebook, on behalf of its own LinkedIn network, with a program called Bali, which would give users control over their data. If successful, this wouldn’t “break the internet,” but it would certainly upset Facebook’s business model.
While elites may consider this a threat, recent history shows it’s not. Ordinary people like getting stuff for free — elites be damned — and they’re willing to pay for it by looking at ads that are based on their data.
I was recently named secretary for another community group, one that has never had a Web site, and if I propose we open on Facebook I doubt there will be any objection.
Dana Blankenhorn is a financial and technology journalist. He is the author of a new mystery thriller, The Reluctant Detective Finds Her Family, available now at the Amazon Kindle store. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @danablankenhorn. As of this writing he owned shares in MSFT.