The fact that the Internet has become a ubiquitous platform that practically everybody with a PC or a smartphone uses on a regular basis is hardly a newsflash. While there is still some concern that the economy is growing slower than it should at this point, in what has been a long and slow recovery, the money and use of the Internet continues to ramp up. A new report from the Internet/e-commerce team at Merrill Lynch, gives a first look at what they think the winners for the third quarter will be.
While the data suggest a mixed quarter for the top e-commerce names, the analysts do see the social media stocks continuing to plow ahead with earnings and market share gains. Here are the five stocks that Merrill Lynch feels could either beat current earnings estimates, or have the biggest change in investor sentiment.
Expedia Inc. (NASDAQ: EXPE) has absolutely exploded pricewise over the past year, and more gains are expected, especially after the company picked up the pace in television advertising. Expedia provides travel products and services to leisure and corporate travelers, offline retail travel agents and travel service providers through a portfolio of brands, including Expedia.com, Hotels.com, Hotwire.com, Expedia Affiliate Network, Classic Vacations, Expedia Local Expert, Egencia, Expedia CruiseShipCenters, eLong and Venere.com.
Expedia investors are paid a 0.8% dividend. Merrill Lynch has a $93 price target on the stock. The Thomson/First Call consensus price target is $89.13. Expedia closed Tuesday at $84.73 a share.
Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) was on the Merrill Lynch key stock pick list for the fourth quarter, and it continues to dominate the social media world. The company has been on a huge roll the past three earnings reporting quarters, and many on Wall Street feel that the stock has plenty of room to run. Mobile revenue and advertising numbers have been skyrocketing, and the company has started to add a search component that could prove to be another earnings silo. Recently the company unveiled its much-anticipated ad platform that has an answer for advertisers who want something better than the Web-restricted cookie to track and target ads.
Atlas can follow Facebook members where they digitally roam, from Web to smartphone, smartphone to tablet. With more than 1.3 billion registered users around the world, Facebook’s e-commerce potential is also very significant and growing larger monthly. Many on Wall Street agree that consumers will increasingly find media and information through their social graph, which puts Facebook in the middle of this information exchange. They also believe the continued growth of smart devices increases Internet usage, and the shift to 4G will likely increase mobile advertising monetization.
The Merrill Lynch price target is $92, and the consensus target is $86.90. Shares closed Tuesday at $76.29.
LinkedIn Corp. (NYSE: LNKD) is only rated Neutral, but Merrill Lynch earnings estimates remain above the other Wall Street estimates. The company dominates the interconnecting of business professionals. LinkedIn has more than 300 million members worldwide, with millions more being added every year, making it the most valuable social networking site for business-to-business marketing today. The Merrill Lynch team remains positive on the stock long term, given the company’s large addressable markets, its well established business model, a still new but promising opportunity in sales and marketing solutions, and the stock’s relative underperformance.
The stock is down 16% over the past year versus a gain for the S&P 500. Merrill Lynch has a $250 price target. The consensus target is $239.20. Shares closed Tuesday at $204.39.
Twitter Inc. (NASDAQ: TWTR) is rated Buy at Merrill Lynch and has become one of the classic “love it or hate it” stories on Wall Street. The Merrill Lynch team has come back around on the Twitter story and considers it one of the individual stocks they find the most interesting now. The analysts point out that Twitter has been strong lately on hopes of improving user trends and continued revenue strength with new ad formats (app downloads and buy button). They also expect strong third-quarter earnings results and are very bullish on the company’s potential to monetize non-plugged in users. That is a prospect they feel the company may detail more at the analysts day set for November 12.
The Merrill Lynch price target is $60, and the consensus is at $53.42. Twitter closed right at that level Tuesday at $53.53.
Yelp Inc. (NASDAQ: YELP) is rated Neutral at Merrill Lynch and has backed off nicely from 52-week highs, offering a much better entry point for investors. The Merrill Lynch analysts expect very solid numbers when the company reports earnings. With the Priceline purchase of Open Table, chatter has increased on Wall Street about a potential buyer for Yelp. Many point to the synergies of a purchase by Yahoo!, while others suggest it would be a good fit for Expedia. Either way, Yelp has a massive salesforce and relationships with more restaurants than any other site.
Merrill Lynch has an $82 price target, and the consensus is at $89.34. The stock ended Tuesday at $68.32 a share.
While betting on a stock in front of earnings can be a risky strategy, it could pay off big if one or more of these top stocks to buy blow out earnings. Remember, this is only suitable for very aggressive accounts with a high risk tolerance.