More Valuation Caution Seen in Facebook Reality Check

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Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) may have seen its peak at the initial public offering. That is what Barron’s wants you to believe. While some concerns that were brought up were minimal and others were concerning, Barron’s did opine that it may have been far too bearish before.

A report this weekend in Barron’s changed its prior $15 price target on Facebook shares. While that may sound good, the reality is that the publication known as the “Financial Bible” for many years still says that the stock should be trading at $25 or less. One concern is that investors are overlooking lofty evaluations in hopes that its billion or so users will pay off in the years ahead. It also pointed out that the stock trades at a bit over 50 times this year’s earnings. If you back out its stock options and other items, that estimate is actually 75 times expected earnings. Another key concern is that Facebook’s expenses will rise at faster rates than its advertising, and its mobile use will start actually to pay off in real dollars.

Investors should take notice that Facebook shares have fallen roughly 6% since the company’s earnings report just last week, and that is not including the 3% drop so far on Monday. As far as how $25 compares to elsewhere, the Thomson Reuters consensus that includes some recent downgrades is still just above $34 on Facebook.

Since Facebook’s earnings were reported, we have seen multiple analyst downgrades. Citigroup cut the rating to Neutral from Buy. Another downgrade was seen by Jeffrey’s, to Hold from Buy, as well as BMO Capital Market cut the writing to Market Perform from Outperform. Stifel Nicolaus also downgraded shares to Hold from Buy. There was one upgrade — to show both sides of the coin — and that was from a boutique firm called Pivotal Research Group, which raised its rating to Buy from Hold.

Facebook shares are currently under $29 and the post-IPO range has been $17.55 to $45.00. Investors might want to pay attention to that fact that Facebook is still worth some $69 billion or so when the Thomson Reuters consensus target for 2013 is $6.66 billion in sales.

If Facebook is expensive, we also have to go back to the grown-up rival LinkedIn Corp. (NYSE: LNKD). It was late in 2012 in a Forbes edition of “Get Rich from Obama” that James O’Shaughnessy of O’Shaughnessy Asset Management said to sell LinkedIn due to valuation. He has a disciplined value/growth quantitative approach, and he said that LinkedIn is just overvalued no matter what metric he uses to evaluate the company. LinkedIn shares are at $123.25 and have hardly budged off their 52-week highs, as the 52-week trading range is $74.32 to $127.45. Thomson Reuters has a consensus price target of $136 on the professional social networking company.

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