Next Stop for Facebook: $30?

Don't look now, but Facebook (NASDAQ: FB  ) is finally the market darling that investors thought it would be ahead of May's IPO.

The social networking giant was one of last week's biggest winners. The stock soared 17% last week, thanks to small yet positive developments:

  • Facebook and Zynga (NASDAQ: ZNGA  ) amended the terms of their partnership in a move that frees up Facebook to begin developing its own games. The two companies drifting apart is relevant, since earlier this year Zynga was accounting for the lion's share of Facebook's non-advertising revenue.
  • The website introduced mobile photo syncing, allowing smartphone owners to upload entire albums to Facebook and sharing them only with select friends -- or none at all.
  • Analysts at Bernstein Research and BTIG issued upbeat notes on the company earlier in the week.

Closing at $28, nearly 60% higher since bottoming out in the high teens three months ago, Facebook is no longer a joke.

Sure, one can argue that Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) have pulled off even bigger leaps since their summertime lows, but Facebook was never a turnaround situation. Nokia and RIM seemed to be on the brink of obsolescence until recently. Now Nokia has a global hit with its Lumia 920 and RIM has finally offered up a date for its BlackBerry 10 launch event.

Facebook was never fundamentally in a funk. Investors simply thought the company was overpriced.

The long road back from a busted IPO
Facebook still has a long way to go to get back to May's IPO price of $38. The company hasn't proven to everybody that its worthy of a 12-digit market cap just yet. However, the dot-com speedster has started to win believers in its mobile monetization efforts.

Facebook may not seem like much of a deal at $30. It would imply an earnings multiple of 46 based on next year's profit target -- and the company isn't growing that fast anymore. Then again, we really don't know the upside growth potential here. What if CEO Mark Zuckerberg is right about mobile being more lucrative than its original desktop client? What if Facebook Gifts succeeds as an outlet for merchants? What if Facebook rolls out a search engine that raises the bar by incorporating friend-based data?

All it takes is a positive response to any of those three questions to jack up Facebook's profit potential.

Three paths to greatness
Mobile monetization? Well, Facebook began inserting Sponsored Stories in mobile news feeds earlier this year. Friends can promote events, but the real driver here comes in the form of companies that want to reach the friends of their existing fans. Many companies are still hesitant about spending to get noticed on Facebook, but that only illustrates the upside to the world's stickiest social website.

Facebook Gifts? Don't underestimate the holiday rollout of the site's new gifting marketplace. When you have a billion active users and more than 140 billion friendship connections between them -- and you know everything from their birthdays to relationship statuses -- you're living in denial if you don't see the gargantuan commission-generating potential for Facebook as a middleman.

Search? Facebook already has a team working on search, and it's going to lean on data points from a searcher's friends to drum up superior query results. Angie's List (NASDAQ: ANGI  ) relies on reviews to generate local service referrals, and folks gladly pay to see them on Angie's List. Now, imagine Facebook sifting through friend data to deliver enhanced search results for free.

Any of these three things could be game changers for Facebook, and one shouldn't be surprised if two or all three wind up panning out for the company.

Shifting perspectives
As big as Facebook may be, the social titan is still widely misunderstood.

There are still plenty of naysayers arguing that Facebook is a passing fad. They bring up MySpace, perhaps unaware that MySpace peaked at roughly a 10th of Facebook's current size, and that it was reaching a young, largely smartphone-less audience that was tricky to monetize.

There's a real networking effect taking place with Facebook, and it's insane to believe that another site will magically scale to a billion active users that perpetually check a site to keep tabs on friends and family members.

The war is over. Facebook won. The skirmishes left -- in winning the battle of getting back above $30, and then reclaiming $38 -- are now an academic matter of when and not if.

Facebook is the real deal. Spread the word.

A world of opportunity
There's a new premium report on Facebook detailing the opportunities and challenges in store for its shareholders. The report includes a full year of updates, so time's ticking. Click here to check it out now.


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