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Surging Facebook Stock Pushes Zuckerberg Past Buffett

Mark Zuckerberg, founder, chairman and chief executive of Facebook (NASDAQ: FB), has seen his wealth soar since mid-March, skyrocketing him past Warren Buffett on the list of wealthiest people in the world.

Buffett, chairman and chief executive of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. (NYSE: BRK-A), is one of the few U.S. billionaires who has not seen huge gains during the coronavirus pandemic, according to a new study. His net worth has remained relatively stable, rising by 0.8%.

Between March 18 and May 19, the total net worth of the more than 600 billionaires in the United States rose by 15%, or $434 billion, says a report released last week by two advocacy groups. These gains have come at the same time that the economy has tanked, with the stock market plunging and unemployment reaching numbers not seen since the Great Depression.

Huge Gains for Zuckerberg and Bezos

Among those seeing the highest gains were Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos, founder, chairman and chief executive of Amazon.com Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), says the study by Americans for Tax Fairness and the Institute for Policy Studies’ Program for Inequality. The net worth of the two men rose by a total of $60 billion.

Between March 18 and May 19, Bezos’ estimated wealth rose by 30.6%, to $147.6 billion from $113 billion, the study says. Recent reports have said that Bezos could potentially become the world’s first trillionaire, perhaps as early as 2026.

Zuckerberg did even better than Bezos over the last two months. His estimated net worth rose by 46.2%, to $80 billion from $54.7 billion. He is now the third wealthiest person in the world, behind Bezos and Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT), according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Facebook’s Surging Stock Price

Zuckerberg’s rising fortunes have coincided with a steep upward slope on Facebook’s stock chart, which has been vastly outpacing the Dow Jones industrial average and the S&P 500. Over the same period as the wealth study, shares in the social network company rose by nearly 48%, to $216.88 on May 19 from $146.96 on March 18.

The increase in stock price has come even though the social media giant has acknowledged a “significant reduction” in advertising revenue as the pandemic took hold.

Facebook reported its first-quarter earnings at the end of April. The company said it had $1.71 in earnings per share (EPS) and $17.44 billion in revenue, compared with consensus estimates that called for earnings of $1.74 in EPS and $17.48 billion in revenue. The same period of last year saw $0.85 in EPS and $15.08 billion in revenue.

Daily active users totaled 1.73 billion on average for March 2020, an increase of 11% year over year. At the same time, monthly active users increased by 10% to 2.60 billion.

Family daily active people (DAP) increased 12% year over year to 2.36 billion, while family monthly active people (MAP) rose 11% to 2.99 billion. The “family” metrics represent estimates of the underlying number of unique people using Facebook, or its apps, including Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp.

‘Investing in Building the Future’

In the earnings call on April 29, Zuckerberg noted that the COVID-19 pandemic had created “a lot of uncertainty now about the world.”

“I have always believed that in times of economic downturn, the right thing to do is to keep investing in building the future,” he said.

Facebook has recently announced expansions into e-commerce and video chatting. Facebook Shops is intended to make it easier for businesses to list their products on Facebook and Instagram. Messenger Rooms, which is expected to compete with Zoom, will allow up to 50 people to conduct a video chat.

The Facebook Shops rollout was accelerated by the pandemic because the company said it wanted to get the free tools into the hands of business owners who were feeling the economic fallout.

“If you can’t physically open your store or restaurant, you can still take orders online and ship them to people,” Zuckerberg said last week in a livestream. “We’re seeing a lot of small businesses that never had online businesses get online for the first time.”

The company also announced last week that it would allow a significant number of U.S. employees to work permanently from remote locations. Zuckerberg said he anticipated that 50% of the workforce would exercise the remote work option over the next five to 10 years. However, employees will see their salaries adjusted based on the cost of living in the location where they are working.

The change may ultimately lead other tech companies to allow employees to work outside of Silicon Valley and change the nature of recruiting for big tech jobs.

Facebook stock closed on Friday at $234.91, up 1.5% from the previous day but down slightly from the 52-week high of $237.20. The 52-week low was $137.10.

The consensus recommendation from analysts has Facebook stock as a Buy. The median price target is $245.00, with a high estimate of $285 and a low estimate of $120.