Investing in the so-called FANG stocks over the past few years has been an unbeatable path to profits. Facebook (META -1.52%), Amazon.com (AMZN -0.16%), Netflix (NFLX -0.68%), and Google parent Alphabet (GOOG -1.82%) (GOOGL -1.82%) have all resoundingly trounced the market indexes over the last three- and five-year periods.
Yet after social media giant Facebook has come under intense scrutiny for mishandling its user data and allowing it to be used by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica, some institutional investors are wondering if they should drop the platform as an investment, while the backlash swells.
With an average gain over the last five years of 290% compared to a 47% rise in the S&P 500, "de-fanging" the group by taking out Facebook is no small matter. The question individual investors must consider is if they should follow the path of institutional investors.
While following the big money into stocks can be an interesting exercise to see where the big players think gains will be made, typically the big players are not buy-and-hold investors and their time frames for making a profit and cashing out are much shorter than individual investors. They don't get married to their stocks, and as Warren Buffett has suggested, the best time to sell is never.
Yet when a company's business model is broken and there's little hope the company can repair it, then getting out of a position is a wise move to make -- even Buffett sells stocks occasionally. But there's no indication any of the FANG stocks are busted investments, not even Facebook.
King and queen of the ad revenue ball
Facebook and Google continue to dominate the digital advertising marketplace as the No. 2 and No. 1 players in the industry, respectively. Together, they collect an estimated 84% of all the ad dollars spent online, and although there is the possibility that they will lose some of their market share to newcomers like Snap and Twitter, losses will not likely be appreciable if only because the duo is the market and consumes so many eyeballs.
Moreover, the global digital ad market will continue to rise meaning Google and Facebook will probably see their own dollar amounts rise too, even if their share is slightly less.
The risks are two fold. One risk is that their businesses come under greater regulatory scrutiny, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has gone on record saying his company may need to be regulated. While that seems like a face-saving plea after a particularly damning episode, it doesn't mean the business model of the company will change. Facebook and Google will continue to suck the air out of the room.
The other risk is that if large investors do pull money from the stocks, it will lead to short-term losses, which is why you should only be investing with money you don't need for years. There is little retail investors can do in such a situation, except perhaps buy more shares if the discount remains as enticing as it is.
The other teeth are just as sharp
There also doesn't appear to be much to worry about for Amazon or Netflix either. The former has come under some pressure as it gets tweeted at by President Donald Trump, but its various business arms remain strong and are growing increasingly dominant across markets. CEO Jeff Bezos just announced that Amazon has more than 100 million Prime members, a massive and lucrative stream of recurring revenue.
Netflix was also not supposed to be able to continue growing as strongly as it has in the past, but the streaming service just added over 7 million new subscribers in the latest quarter -- almost 2 million in the U.S. and 5.5 million internationally -- surprising even itself let alone analysts.
Although institutional investors may talk themselves into taking one or more FANG stocks out of their portfolios, there's no good reason individual investors should follow suit, and as good as Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet have been as investments over the last three- and five-year periods, their business models remain as strong as ever, suggesting the next few years ought to produce more strong returns.