FB Stock Downgrade: Rare Sell Rating As Analyst Predicts Plunge

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While other analysts significantly boosted their price targets for Facebook in the wake of the company’s earnings report last week, one analyst downgraded the stock and now predicts a significant plunge in its price. The FB stock downgrade has handed the social media firm a Sell rating. Facebook has only a very few Neutral ratings these days, and a Sell rating is even less common for it. FactSet only one other analyst out of the 40 who submit estimates for Facebook has a Sell rating or equivalent on the stock.

FB stock downgrade to Sell

Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser downgraded Facebook to Sell from Hold and maintained his target price of $140 a share, which implies downside potential of nearly 20%. After the FB stock downgrade, the shares fell by nearly 2% during regular trading hours on Monday, slumping to as low as $169.41 by early afternoon.

Wieser warned investors that the market may only be focusing on the upside potential in Facebook “without appropriately considering risks to growth.” He pointed out that as the years go on, the digital ad market is moving closer and closer to saturation and warned that large brand advertisers are starting to dial down their spending on digital ads.

For example, he said that Procter & Gamble recently slashed $140 million off its digital ad spending because it said digital ads aren’t impacting its revenue. The analyst feels that other brand advertisers may start scrutinizing their own digital ad budgets more carefully to see if their spending is benefiting their revenues. Big brand advertisers contribute about 30% of Facebook’s revenue.

FB stock downgrade surrounded by price target increases

Facebook smashed earnings estimates for the second quarter, and as Pivotal prepared to hand down a FB stock downgrade, most other firms boosted their target prices for the shares. For example, Deutsche Bank analyst Lloyd Walmsley raised their target price from $189 to $215 and reiterated their Buy rating on the shares. The social media firm grew its ad revenue by more than 49% year over year “with no signs of a meaningful slowdown,” he said, which clearly runs counter to the slowdown predicted by Wieser.

Total ad impression growth slowed by 13 percentage points as ad pricing accelerated by 9 percentage points to drive the beat in ad revenue. Overall, Walmsley found “very few negatives” in the last earnings report, even though the company keeps warning that ad revenue will decelerate in the second half of this year. He actually sees this as “primarily Street management,” adding that he sees strong dynamics for pricing.

Facebook Messenger to drive more growth

Commentary from Facebook management pointed to accelerating monetization for Messenger, which Walmsley said was a big positive for sentiment. He sees Messenger as possibly being a major driver of long-term growth for the company.

KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Andy Hargreaves also sees Messenger as driving growth for Facebook, and he reiterated his Buy rating and boosted his price target for the company’s stock from $155 to $200 a share after the last earnings report. In addition to Messenger, he also mentioned video ads, saying that their impact so far has seemed “positive and early.”

Further, Facebook said that the number of Instagram business profile pages accelerated to 15 million from the last time it reported this metric in the fourth quarter of 2016, when it was only 5 million.

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