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BAML Expresses Doubt on Whether New Ad Model Can Save Facebook

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Investors in Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) are constantly worried about future revenue streams the company could take advantage of. The company has, since its IPO, offered little, if anything, for investors to get excited about. New advertising strategies and platforms could be the saving grace of the company, or they could simply be another small evolution, delivering incremental increases in revenue, but nothing drastic enough to heave expectations in one way or another.

BAML Expresses Doubt on Whether New Ad Model Can Save Facebook

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) analysts have mostly concentrated on the effect of an expiring deadline on the share price of late, but there are other trends in the tech company that might express more fully the direction the company will take over the longer term. A new report, from Bank Of America Corp (NYSE:BAC)’s division of Merril Lynch,  studies the effects of possible changes in the company’s advertising products in its twelve month projection.

The report as a whole is neutral. It views Facebook, as a company, to be strong, but Facebook as a stock, to be risky. Its theories as mollified by several risk factors, including a slow down in social gaming, exemplified recently by Zynga Inc. (NASDAQ:ZNGA) results, higher operating expenditures, and of course, lock up expirations.

The price target set by Merril Lynch, is $23, lower than their previous projection of $35. Facebook’s shares are currently languishing just above $18, as of Friday’s close. A twelve month rise to $23 still offers a return strong enough to merit further review.

That price target would see Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) trading at 35X 2013 earnings per share. the company is currently trading at the same multiple, based on estimation of revenue in 2012.

The changes in advertising that this report concentrates on one current product, sponsored stories, one very recent addition, sponsored search results, and one upcoming product, Facebook Ad Exchange. The report proposes that the total income from these products in 2013 could be as high as $600 million. That number includes the effects of “cannibalization”, the moving of revenues from old products to new ones, resulting in no real growth.

The power of the new advertising platforms is threefold. First, they aim to fix Facebook’s largest looming problem, the lack of ad revenue from mobile. Sponsored stories are existent on all platforms, and 50% of revenue from the platform came from mobile in the last quarter. Second, they offer an innovative, and according to some research, more effective, and therefore valuable form of advertising to firms. Third, the platforms do not degrade user experience as much as other visual advertising models.

The third of these advantages sums up the biggest challenge facing Facebook, monetizing while keeping the site user friendly. Merril Lynch’s analysts list it as one of the reasons the services may not take off as quickly as they should. Facebook may neglect publicity in order to avoid offending its users.

Revenue from the three services is projected to be $639 million from Sponsored Stories, $203 million from Sponsored Search, and $441 million from Ad Exchange. All three of those services would be expected to scale up in the future, offering a relatively optimistic view of Facebook’s future.

Despite this measured optimism, the report designates its confidence level in the estimations as low. There are far too many variables to say with a high degree of accuracy what will happen to Facebook or its share price in the next year.

Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)’s share price is likely to see a hit in the coming months, as the lock up period ends for its various categories of investors. That downward pressure may be combated by successful implementation of these new advertising strategies, but those incremental increases will take some time to come into effect.

Facebook’s future is hanging in the balance, but the probable short term negative effects of the lock up period expiration should be discounted in longer term analysis. The firm is trying to scale up its ad revenues, these three project are probably just the beginnings of a longer term effort.

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