As Facebook(NASDAQ:FB) stock sets new all-time highs, pushing its valuation to the $250 billion milestone, it is pretty clear investors -- individual and institutional alike -- see a lot of good things ahead for the social media company. Even with a consensus stock price target of $96 per share, it is not hard to find investors who expect Facebook to easily surpass that price level.
This outperformance has caught the attention of Wall Street, including big hitters like Geode Capital Management. With over $200 billion in assets under management, its list of holdings runs into the hundreds, and one of the top bets is Facebook. As of this writing, Geode owns nearly $1.5 billion worth of Facebook stock, including approximately $700 million added during the first three months of 2015.
What's not to like?
Video ads on Facebook are not entirely new: The company began testing the waters a couple of years ago, but the potential was obvious. In fact, for the lucky few that were included in the video ad testing phase, Facebook was reportedly asking for a cool $1 million a day for the privilege. Now, video spots have gone mainstream, and early indications are that video is everything Facebook, and investors, had hoped it would be.
According to one of Facebook's primary marketing partners, the social network has taken an ever-increasing piece of its over two million advertisers' budgets, and at least part of that trend is thanks to video spots. Video is already the fastest-growing advertising segment at the company. Considering it only unwrapped video spots across its massive 1.44 billion monthly average user (MAU) base a few months ago, that kind of early success should have digital ad king Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) on the alert.
With YouTube, Google remains the video leader, but the early success at Facebook cannot be ignored. It may actually be one reason the search leader is concentrating on better monetizing the site. News of a pending paid subscription service, the growing number of "skippable" ads, and a lot more time spent discussing YouTube on quarterly earnings calls may simply be a coincidence, or they may be signals that Google is focused on that opportunity, at least in part, due to Facebook's success.
The next great thing(s)
Institutional investors like Geode can certainly hang their hat on video spots, growing MAUs, and strong mobile adoption. But what should really get Facebook fans excited is what lies on the horizon.
The $2 billion Facebook spent for Oculus and its Rift virtual reality (VR) headset last year was a head-scratcher for some. Hardware? What was Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg thinking? It turns out, Zuckerberg was thinking about the $3 billion market VR is expected to become in just five years, thanks to a worldwide community of 1.2 billion gamers. Facebook has plans for Oculus that go well beyond gaming, but that alone should make the industry-leading Rift well worth the price tag.
Now, toss in the recent deal with new VR pal Microsoft to sync Rift with its popular Xbox console, and Oculus really begins to look like another growth driver. Scheduled for release in early 2016, Facebook shareholders will not have to wait long to begin seeing a return on the Rift investment.
Even more exciting for Geode and other Facebook investors was the recent news that the ad testing phase at Instagram has come to an end, and it is time to start monetizing what nearly every industry pundit agrees is a potential goldmine. Naturally, revenue estimates vary, but many suggest Instagram could generate nearly $6 billion annually by 2020 with some forecasts going much higher.
It is easy to see why there are so many Instagram bulls around. Its photo-sharing foundation is a natural conduit for thoughtful, targeted ads, which Facebook does extremely well. And with video spots in full-swing, Instagram and its 300 million plus MAUs are an ideal market for Facebook's marketing partners -- the app should help rein in even more brand name advertisers, an opportunity COO Sheryl Sandberg alluded to last quarter.
And that's not all
In April of this year, WhatsApp announced it had surpassed the 800 million MAU benchmark, inching ever closer to the magical one billion. One billion MAUs is "magical" because Zuckerberg has said Facebook will not consider monetizing the service until there are one billion users. It appears that time is close at hand, which presents another tantalizing revenue opportunity.
Not be outdone, Facebook recently announced that its as-yet-unmonetized Messenger service also has over 700 million MAUs, up from 600 million just a few months ago. It is no wonder folks like Geode are adding to their already large stakes in Facebook: as impressive as its performance has been, the company is just scratching the surface.