Facebook (FB): Entering Shleifer Effect Watchlist

May 31, 2012 — Leave a comment

 

I don’t believe Facebook requires much by way of introduction. I’m not sure history can show us a more heralded (by the media anyway) public offering fueled by tremendous optimism about the business only to be replaced within days by a string of bad news stories, leading to widespread pessimism about its future, and accompanied by a steep drop.

This is classic Shleifer Effect stuff. But it’s a different kind of business than ones I’m used to evaluating and owning…it’s a far cry from a value situation. This is classic big story growth stock. That’s why I have to disclose this confession: I bought a small piece of this business today.

I’m working on some other projects and don’t have the time to go into much detail right now, but I’ll try to get back to it soon.

Suffice it to say that I see a business with a lot of opportunity for growth by tapping an asset of enormous value, its user base. They make some money now, and I believe the company will find ways to squeeze something viable (nay, thriving) out of those 900 or so million users.

While I remain skittish of social networking businesses (see this post where I mention Facebook in reference to MySpace), I believe there is a durable competitive advantage. In other words, I don’t foresee (despite many people that believe differently) something like Twitter or an upstart making serious inroads to steal Facebook market share and/or force it into a pricing war that reduces its profitability.

I also believe it has a profitable economic model in that its gross margins can (and do) exceed its expense structure (and this despite a lot of expenses expanding for growth) and its earnings can (and do) exceed its requirements for reinvested capital.

But then there’s that pesky problem of price. When measuring it against earnings, it’s high. Very high. Even after the major fall. How am I rationalizing this to myself then, you must ask.

Pessimism. Tremendous, and I believe, unwarranted pessimism that is leading to irrational behavior. Granted, this same pessimism could burgeon further from here. My purchase might lose value. At this point, based on my evaluation of what I see, that would create another buying opportunity. I would take advantage of it.

So, I will no doubt inspire righteous ire by quoting Warren Buffett below in my justification for buying Facebook. But these models are complex and nuanced, so here is one upon which I’m depending more and more…

“The most common cause of low prices is pessimism – some times pervasive, some times specific to a company or industry. We want to do business in such an environment, not because we like pessimism but because we like the prices it produces. It’s optimism that is the enemy of the rational buyer.

None of this means, however, that a business or stock is an intelligent purchase simply because it is unpopular; a contrarian approach is just as foolish as a follow-the-crowd strategy. What’s required is thinking rather than polling. Unfortunately, Bertrand Russell’s observation about life in general applies with unusual force in the financial world: ‘Most men would rather die than think. Many do.’”

Most of the resources I’m paying attention to for news about Facebook come from Henry Blodget’s BusinessInsider.com. Again, I’m not actively trying to attract the outrage of my value investing compatriots, but I find a lot of signal inside the layer upon layer of noise that comes out of Business Insider.

Facebook Stock Is Breaking Down Again (May 30, 2012)

How Morgan Stanley Clients Got Screwed On Facebook — And How We Can Fix The System (May 31, 2012)

Paul Dryden

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