Let's be honest. Leading up to the Nov. 14 unlocking of close to 800 million shares of social-media giant Facebook (Nasdaq: FB ) , who didn't think a nearly 40% increase in float, for what was already a depressed stock, would cause a selloff? I did. In fact, I'd suggested just that a few weeks ago, leading up to what has quickly become ... a Facebook rally?
The news stories leading up to Nov. 14 were eerily similar, all shouting their own versions of the Nasdaq article, "Facebook Braces for Biggest Lockup Wave." And, frankly, that outlook made sense. The two prior release periods resulted in selloffs, and they paled in comparison with the nearly 800 million shares now available for insiders to sell on the open market.
The slight decline in Facebook shares on Nov. 13, the day before the lockup period expired, was blamed on investor jitters ahead of the "calamity." Yet, here we are, with Facebook share prices up more than 12% today, pushing it to positive territory for the past three months. There's a long way to go before Facebook shareholders are back to the $38 IPO price, but a 25% bump from its historical low of $17.55 is a start.
So, what gives?
The notion that Facebook investors had already factored the impact of the stock lockup expiration into its share price has some merit. When I last reviewed Facebook, it was trading at what I still think was a discounted $23 per share, and coming off a solid Q3. Since? A slow, but steady, easing led us right up to Nov. 13's $19.86 closing price, the lowest it'd been in weeks.
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's decision to not sell any of his 500 million shares until September 2013, at the earliest, certainly helped matters. Of course, with 800 million already on the table for November, how much choice did he really have, assuming he had shareholders' best interests at heart? Clearly, Facebook is able to absorb the recent unlocking of shares, but another 500 million on top of that? That's asking too much.
Building on the momentum of Q3, including the continued advertising revenue growth from Facebook's 600 million mobile users, will determine whether it is a better mid- or a long-term investment opportunity. The upcoming Q4 results will help show us whether Facebook's new Android Messenger service for Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) smartphone users, and its improved technology for Apple's iPhone users, are paying off.
The Android Messenger service is a necessity, as there are simply too many Google OS users to ignore. As it happens, Google is working both with, and against, Facebook. The still relatively new Google+ social-networking service is growing, and growing fast. Google+ got to 400 million total users, 100 million of which are "active," just about overnight.
As for LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD ) , who blinks first? With more than 187 million users as of its Q3 earnings announcement Nov. 1, it seems only a matter of time before it and Facebook (really) start stepping on each other's toes. Facebook's 1 billion users stands head and shoulders above LinkedIn, and Facebook's emphasis on social networking sets them apart for now. But at what point does Facebook think, "Hey, I'm guessing a large number of our existing users own a company, work for a company, or know someone who does," and goes after that market?
Turns out the doom and gloom surrounding the end of Facebook's stock lockup period is a non-event. Now, Facebook investors can get back to analyzing it based on growth opportunities, period. I assumed there would be a negative, albeit short-term, impact when the shares were released, too. Oops.
But my view of Facebook as an investment alternative, particularly beginning at these levels, hasn't changed. Facebook remains a solid, long-term growth stock. If you were still waiting for a sign Facebook is worth your attention, the jump in its share price Nov. 14, in spite of the release of nearly 800 million shares, should do it.
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