How high are expectations for Facebook’s (FB) third quarter earnings report after the close on November 2?
The report comes with the stock at an all-time high. (Shares closed at $130.99 on October 31.)
Wall Street is looking for 96 cents a share, up from 57 cents a share in the third quarter of 2015 for a 68% jump in earnings.
And that’s just the official Wall Street consensus. The whisper number, the unofficial number that gets circulated among analysts in the days before a report, is $1.03. Or 81% earnings growth.
Ad revenue is projected to climb to $6.9 billion, up 60%. Mobile ad revenue, the all-important metric for Internet ad sales these days, is expected to grow by 72% year over year.
But don’t worry, the consensus says right now, about these sky high expectations because Facebook is sure to beat them. In the last three quarters the company has exceeded estimates by 19%, by 24%, and by 17%.
Despite all these projections, however, the average price target is just $153.81, according to FactSet. That’s a relatively modest 17% projected gain over the next year so somebody on the Street has at least a reservation or two.
Now I don’t have any idea of whether Facebook will beat short-term expectations on Wednesday, largely because I don’t know what results will disappoint traders and investors. For example, will an earnings beat of less than 20% be a disappointment given beats of 19%, 24%, and 17% in the last three quarters?
Don’t know. (I also don’t know if the slow roll out of the Oculus virtual reality business and questions about the way Facebook counted video use will draw attention in Wednesday’s earnings report and ding the stock.)
The longer-term–that is more than a day or a week or a month–picture, however, is much more certain. And for the long-term I’d be a buyer of Facebook even at an all-time high and a trailing-12-month price to earnings ratio of 62.6. In fact, I’m going to add it to my long-term 50 Stocks portfolio tomorrow, Tuesday, November 1. If the shares stumble, on Wednesday, I’ll be disappointed at my timing. But, hey, this is a long-term pick and that’s what I’m buying.
What makes me so enthusiastic?
Three numbers. First, Facebook has 1.7 billion monthly active users. Second, it has 3 million advertisers. And third, Facebook’s market value per user is just $12.96 and its revenue per user is just $216.33.
If you’re a Facebook skeptic, your doubts probably focus on that active user number. Can Facebook keep adding users fast enough so that it can exceed expectations for enormous growth?
But the big profit growth story for Facebook doesn’t come from adding users; it comes from monetizing those users at a higher rate. As we’ve watched Twitter (TWTR) twist in the wind recently, vacillating between efforts to sell itself and to cut costs as a way to increase earnings, we’ve learned to focus on revenue per user. Twitter’s big problem is that it hasn’t been able to monetize its huge user base. The company’s revenue per user is just $45.11.
At $216.33 Facebook’s revenue per user is certainly higher than Twitter’s, but it is still remarkably low for a company that is so dominant in its space. LinkedIn (LNKD), for comparison, shows revenue of $243.85 per user and a market value of $32.41 per user. (Microsoft (MSFT) has just purchased LinkIn.) If Facebook could match LinkedIn’s revenue per user number–an increase of approximately $30–at 1.7 billion monthly users, Facebook would be looking at an increase in revenue of $51 billion. That’s consequential for a company that recorded $22.2 billion in revenue over the last 12 months.
Fortunately for the long-term investor Facebook seems to recognize that its main job is monetizing all those eyeballs.
In recent announcements the company has reported on efforts to add food ordering from restaurant pages, requests for appointments through a business page with confirmation through Messenger, and purchasing of movie tickets through Fandango. In addition the company is just beginning to monetize WhatsApp and Messenger. With its scale there really isn’t a stand-alone service that Facebook can’t take a shot at adding to its pages in an effort to increase monetization.
That’s a lot of long-term growth on the table.
I think this one is worth buying and holding for a while