A large upside earnings surprise for the current quarter is the one and only thing which could pull Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) shares out of their tail-spin and push them up considerable.
Facebook’s stock fell to $19.05 yesterday, down from the IPO price of $38. Part of the drop was attributed to the end of a lock-up period, and there will be more shares which can be sold as the year goes by. Bloomberg reports:
The shares freed up yesterday represent 14 percent of the 1.91 billion that will become available for sale in the coming nine months. The next expiration date comes between Oct. 15 and Nov. 13, when restraints are removed on about 243 million shares. Lock-up expires on about 1.2 billion shares on Nov. 14, and for 149.4 million shares a month later. A final round comes May 18, 2013, with 47.3 million shares becoming available.
Facebook’s most severe problems began long before yesterday, with the largest single incident being the release of its earnings which happened on July 26. Revenue for the second quarter totaled $1.18 billion, an increase of 32%, compared with $895 million in the second quarter of 2011. The growth rate was considered terribly slow. Marketing and sales expenses took an extraordinary and unexpected jump from $96 million to $392 million between the two periods.
Facebook won’t have any good news between now and the release of its third quarter numbers. Even if Facebook adds some huge advertisers, or shows progress with its mobile marketed strategy, the weight of share sales and skepticism about Facebook’s business model are too weighty now.
The consensus among analysts for third quarter figures is for $.11 EPS on revenue of $1.24 billion. Investors are already skeptical enough about the social network’s future that numbers which match the consensus will not trigger a buying spree of Facebook’s stock.
The high end of estimate is aggressive–$.15 EPS. Those four cents don’t seem like much, but the lift over $.11 is 36%. The highest analyst estimate for revenue in the third quarter is $1.36 billion. Reaching that figure would prove that Facebook is on a reasonable growth trajectory–particularly if management gives strong guidance.
If Facebook hits the highest range of estimates, or above, some investors will be convinced that company still has the opportunity to grow quickly into 2012 . That will not prevent the end to lock-ups, but it will cause investors to buy on dips. If these investors believe that next year will be really extraordinary, the demand for shares could overwhelm selling. In addition, some of the sellers may actually hold if they also believe that 2013 prospects will be good.
Facebook’s shares could surge–but not until October’s earnings release.
Douglas A. McIntyre