Facebook Stock Continues To Climb, Despite Regulatory Fears

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For more than two years, Facebook has found itself at the center of a string of controversies, from privacy and data concerns to accusations of democracy-destroying behavior and antitrust investigations from the Federal Trade Commission. CEO Mark Zuckerberg has been called to testify in Washington not once but twice over his company’s policies. For most companies, a string of shaky headlines might affect the company’s outlook.

For Facebook, the company’s stock continues to rise.

After climbing over 50% last year, Facebook’s stock is already up over 5% so far in 2020. Despite a number of looming investigations from U.S. government agencies over competition and antitrust issues, the stock has hit several new all-time highs in recent weeks. The company saw its market cap rise by more than $200 billion in 2019, and is now worth nearly $630 billion today.

Facebook appears to be making a comeback from its historic slump in mid-2018, when the company unexpectedly warned of slower user and sales growth. A day after that announcement, the stock plunged 20%. The forecast of slowing profits also came amid wider concerns over data privacy. Facebook for months faced backlash over its handling of users’ privacy, as well as its role in not stopping the spread of “fake news.” Among mounting criticism, Facebook was lambasted for damaging democracy after British consulting firm Cambridge Analytica was able to leverage personal user data from millions for its political advertising strategies.The criticism caused Facebook stock to undergo an extended sell-off during the rest of 2018, where it lost nearly half of its overall market value.

The stock largely recovered in the first half of 2019, but plunged again nearly 10% in May, amid calls for the company’s breakup. The Federal Trade Commission then opened an antitrust probe into the social media giant in June, with many Wall Street analysts predicting that growing calls for regulation would be damaging for the company. Facebook was eventually slapped with a $5 billion fine from the FTC, its largest penalty in history, for violating consumers’ privacy.

Facebook also faced criticism over the launch of its new digital currency, Libra, last year. And as the 2020 U.S. election draws nearer, the world’s largest social media network is under intense pressure to adjust its policies on fake news and political advertising. But Facebook recently confirmed that it won’t change its policy of allowing false political advertisements on its platform. That contrasts with other social media companies, like Twitter, which banned all political ads from its site last October. What’s more, last September, 47 state attorneys general announced an investigation into Facebook for antitrust violations, sending the stock down 4%.

Despite the recent criticism and increased calls for regulation looming on the horizon, Facebook stock’s recent momentum and new record highs may signal that investors are so far unconcerned by the regulatory fears. Indeed, Wall Street is predicting a big year ahead for Facebook.

Facebook for months faced criticism and backlash over its handling of users’ privacy, as well as its role in the spread of fake news.

The company has in recent quarters continued to grow revenue by adding news users to its core platform as well as to its family of apps, like Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp. Optimism is reportedly growing over Facebook’s ability to monetize those apps, like they have been with Instagram through video ads and commerce.

The stock’s most recent rally came on the back of stronger-than-expected earnings in the third quarter. Revenue growth actually accelerated in 2019, with the company reporting a year-over-year revenue growth rate of 26% in the first quarter, 28% in the second quarter and 29% in the third quarter. Even as Facebook tries to improve its reputation, it continues to dominate the digital advertising market: Businesses continue to use Facebook’s advertising platform, with analysts on average expecting its revenue from ads to increase 26% in 2019, according to Refinitiv.

In a recent note, Deutsche Bank analysts predicted “renewed strength in the core Facebook app” in 2020, thanks to company initiatives like reworking the core Newsfeed, rolling out Stories, scaling Marketplace and building its Groups product. Bank of America analysts, on the other hand, recently argued that Facebook’s Messenger and WhatsApp offerings are still undervalued and not fully reflected in the stock price, which they think can rise 20% higher. “While the firm remains under scrutiny and faces regulatory risks, it continues to execute exceptionally well,” writes Morningstar analyst Ali Mogharabi in his analysis of Facebook’s latest earnings report.

Even as Facebook tries to improve its reputation, it continues to dominate the digital advertising market.

Despite facing another year of criticism for allowing fake news on Facebook, Zuckerberg said in an annual blog post that “One of the big questions for the next decade is: how should we govern the large new digital communities that the internet has enabled?” The Facebook CEO, who is now worth almost $82 billion according to Forbes’ estimates, suggested that the best way to address this would be “by establishing new ways for communities to govern themselves.”

Since Trump’s inauguration day, Zuckerberg’s net worth has increased by an estimated $27.8 billion—the fifth-most of anyone in the world and the third-most of any American over that period, according to Forbes’ calculations.

Facebook’s fourth-quarter earnings and full-year results for 2019, which will be reported after the market closes on January 29, are a key indicator of whether the company can continue its momentum in 2020. But if 2019 was anything to go by, turbulent political times for Facebook may not have much effect on the ability of its stock to climb higher.