After a rough 2018, shares of Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) have been on a tear in 2019. Year-to-date, FB stock is up more than 30%, and it’s only April.
The big question on everyone’s mind: can this rally continue? After all, the company is still being hit with data privacy concerns. The digital ad market is still slowing down. The global economy is still cooling. Social media saturation and fatigue in developed economies are still a problem. Margins are still under pressure from heavy data security investments.
In other words, Facebook stock still has a plethora of headwinds. Will those headwinds ultimately short circuit this rally later this year?
I don’t think so. Although Facebook does have many headwinds, it also has many tailwinds, and in 2019, those tailwinds will be much stronger. As such, the big year-to-date rally in Facebook stock should persist, and the stock will likely hit $200-plus prices by the end of the year.
Data Privacy Headlines Aren’t Weighing on the Stock
Perhaps the most defining feature of Facebook stock in 2018 was that it was hit hard on every single negative data privacy/security-related headline (and there were alot of them). Perhaps the most defining feature of the stock in 2019 is that this hasn’t been the case.
In 2018, starting with the Cambridge Analytica scandal early in the year, Facebook stock plummeted with each new data privacy headline because investors were concerned that these negative headlines were going to ultimately affect the business. Users were going to leave. Advertisers were going to run. Revenue was going to drop.
None of that happened. Instead, Facebook proved that it’s the stickiest platform in the world. Amid the worst data privacy scandal arguably ever, the company added users, grew its advertisers base, and maintained 30%-plus revenue growth.
The takeaway? These headlines don’t do anything to Facebook’s bottom line. Investors know this now. As such, even though the negative data privacy headlines remain in the news, they aren’t weighing on FB stock price. The investment community has moved on and is hyper-focused on the numbers, not the optics.
Potential User Base Expansion
The numbers in 2019 should be good, starting with reinvigorated user growth.
To be sure, Facebook’s user growth rates slowed meaningfully in 2018. This wasn’t an isolated phenomena. Over at Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Snap (NYSE:SNAP), user growth rates slowed, too, and actually went negative. Broadly speaking, social media is nearing saturation in the developed world.
But, Facebook still has tremendous growth potential in under-developed economies. In Africa, the platform’s penetration rate is just 15%, versus 40% in Europe and over 70% in North America, mostly because less than 40% of Africa is connected to the internet. So, the logic is that if internet connectivity became more pervasive across Africa, Facebook’s penetration rate could probably double to 30%, implying new user potential of 200 million.
Facebook is trying to make this a reality by building an underwater data cable around the whole continent of Africa with the hopes of lowering bandwidth costs and increasing Facebook adoption. True, this is far from a reality today but progress on this initiative will boost investor enthusiasm for further user growth, and that should help keep FB stock on a winning trajectory.
Revenue Growth Bounces Back
Another big part of the Facebook stock sell-off in 2018 was a slowdown in revenue growth rates. The big culprit here was a widespread pivot from News Feed ads to Stories ads. That pivot ultimately provided a drag on growth rates, since tried-and-true News Feed ads have higher rates than still-experimental Stories ads.
But, we are now more than a year into this big transition, and if Facebook is really good at anything, it’s figuring out how to increase ad effectiveness. Thus, it seems likely that in 2019, Facebook will dramatically improve the effectiveness of its Stories-based ad solutions, and in so doing, be able to increase prices for those ads.
As this dynamic plays out, revenue growth rates should re-accelerate. The return of revenue growth will help keep Facebook stock on an uptrend for the rest of the year.
New E-Commerce Potential
Instagram is finally making its long-awaited push into the commerce realm, and that’s a big move. Instagram was built for shopping. It’s a visual-first platform populated with content that makes consumers go “oooh, I want that”. Putting commerce on that platform enables consumers to take that thought, and turn it into action.
The financial implications are significant. Instagram has about a billion users. Let’s say the average annual commerce spend for each of those billion users on Instagram is $50. That implies e-commerce gross merchandise value of $50 billion. A 5% take rate on that equates to $2.5 billion in revenue. That’s a big number.
As such, the build-out of Instagram commerce in 2019 should boost revenue growth rates, add firepower to the long-term growth narrative, and help keep Facebook stock on an upward trajectory.
Valuation Supports $200
Given continued secular growth tailwinds in the digital advertising space, Facebook’s ability to grow market share in that space via Messenger and WhatsApp ads, and the company’s ability to jump into the e-commerce space, I think Facebook reasonably projects as a 20%-plus revenue grower for the foreseeable future. Meanwhile, operating margins should start to rebound as expensive data security investments moderate, and revenue scale drives opex leverage.
Assuming 20%-plus revenue growth and margin improvement for the foreseeable future, then I see Facebook hitting $15 in earnings per share by fiscal 2024. Based on a growth average 20x forward multiple, that equates to a fiscal 2023 price target of $300. Discounted back by 10% per year, that implies a reasonable fiscal 2019 price target for FB stock of more than $200.
Bottom Line on FB Stock
Facebook stock has bounced back strongly in early 2019. This rally has legs to continue for the rest of the year, mostly because the numbers will get better. User growth will remain healthy. Revenue growth will re-accelerate. Margins will bottom, and start expanding again. Robust profit growth will come back into the picture.
All of these positive developments aren’t priced into FB stock yet. They aren’t fully priced in until $200. Consequently, further upside in FB stock seems likely for the foreseeable future.
As of this writing, Luke Lango was long FB and TWTR.
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