Is Facebook Stock Getting Hammered on Analyst Comparison to eBay?

Many times on Wall Street, stock analysts just regurgitate the same tired old analyst jargon when reporting on a stock. That wasn’t the case late Wednesday when Stifel analyst Scott Devitt brought the hammer out as he cut the firm’s price target on Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) from $195 to $168 and compared the company to eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY), which had some troubling issues back in 2004.

While Devitt didn’t cut the firm’s rating on the shares, which is Hold, he provided some of the most colorful commentary on the company that Wall Street has produced in some time. He also compared the company’s current plight to that of eBay, while noting this in the report:

We are lowering our 12-month target price on Facebook shares to $168 from $195, based on a 100 basis point or 1% increase to the discount rate in our discounted cash flow analysis. Facebook’s current plight reminds us of eBay in 2004 – an unstructured content business built on trust that lost that trust prior to implementing policies to add structure and process. Just like PayPal was going to save eBay, Instagram may save Facebook … eventually. To further the comparison, we can even borrow eBay’s The Power of Three tagline (eBay/PayPal/Skype and Facebook/Instagram/WhatsApp).

While acknowledging that Facebook’s business is much larger than eBay’s was, he points out that the damage being inflicted on the company may be far more significant, and with good reason.

Facebook has been a Wall Street darling for years, quarter after quarter producing huge earnings and increases in metrics, while continuing to grow the company’s gigantic footprint. In fact, as of the fourth quarter of 2017, a stunning 1.4 billion active users visited the social network on a daily basis. Overall, daily active users accounted for 66% of monthly active users.

Like all companies that face a crisis of confidence, this too at some point should blow over, and there is no question that the company will continue to post big numbers. But the genie is out of the bottle, and many Facebook users are wondering if their data is being captured and exploited, which may indeed be the case.

In addition, to throw a little additional fuel on the proverbial public relations fire, on Tuesday former WhatsApp founder Brian Acton, who sold his company to Facebook for $22 billion in 2014 tweeted, “It is time. #deletefacebook,” referencing the online movement that is gaining steam in the wake of revelations that the personal data of 50 million were compromised.

Again, this probably is a bump in the road for a company that has been one of the best-performing Nasdaq stocks for years, but a cadre of fund managers has been paraded across financial media, and some have said they are selling shares on every uptick. In a closing shot, the Stifel analyst also said this:

There are a lot of questions, but there are still few answers, even after the post today on the data thing. Warren Buffett has his own thing called a “too hard” pile, and we are choosing to put Facebook shares in it. We would Buy all of our Buy-rated stocks and many of our Hold-rated stocks before we would buy Facebook shares, given the information available to us. We maintain our Hold rating on Facebook shares.

Facebook shares traded down about 1% at $167.75 Thursday morning, but that is off a low of $165.21 printed right after the market opened.