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Investors sell off Facebook, but analysts see buying opportunity

It's been a tough fourth quarter for the king of social media, but despite a catalog of problems, some analysts argue that recent pullbacks in Facebook Inc. stock could pose a buying opportunity.

The company continues to reveal issues with the metrics it provides to advertisers, with another glitch arising on Dec. 9. The company said in a blog post that it updated how it calculates those metrics, and that it also discovered further misallocations in certain engagement metrics on live video posts, so it will update those metrics solutions as well.

While the errors will not necessarily affect the company's billable receipts or its bottom line directly, they add to a mounting negative sentiment among investors and advertisers. Besides the metrics errors, since the beginning of the quarter the company has announced plans to pull out of the ad-server side of its Atlas business, effectively giving that market share to competitors like Alphabet Inc.; been criticized for the widespread distribution of fake news; lost its chief accounting officer, and forecast that ad-load growth could flatten in 2017 as expenses rise.

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As Brian Wieser of Pivotal Capital Markets said in a Dec. 12 note, "it was as if all of these topics came together once again on [Dec. 9]."

Where the previous metrics errors were discovered by Facebook itself in an internal audit, these new revelations came from a third party, a reporter with Marketing Land who gained access to Facebook's data for a story, according to Wieser.

"The fact that errors were discovered following Facebook's recent self-audit will heighten demands from agencies and advertisers to allow third party audits, given concerns that additional errors will be discovered," the analyst said.

The issues could drive advertisers to Facebook's more transparent competitors, and it also could make media partners like the NFL suspicious of Facebook's audience claims, Wieser argued.

Among the fallout, investors appear to see reasons for skepticism. The stock is in its first sustained downturn after several quarters of upward momentum as Facebook beat its guidance and was generally viewed favorably. The pullback is in contrast to other media stocks. From Nov. 1 to Dec. 12, Facebook shares declined over 9% while the SNL Kagan New Media Index was just about flat after a post-election rally that barely touched the social media giant. On the three-month chart as of Dec. 13, Facebook was down 5.4% compared to a 4.1% gain for the new media index.

However, Facebook enjoyed a bounce on Dec. 13, recovering about 2% to its market cap. Since the pullback on the stock; however, observers such as Neil Doshi of Mizuho Equity Research have proposed that Facebook is still a great long-term bet and characterized the downturn as a buying opportunity.

"We do believe that the selloff has been overdone, and that the fundamental story of FB has not changed," the analyst wrote in a recent note. "It is the dominant social platform, it has been gaining share from other sites, it has significant near-term growth opportunities around video ... local advertising, and Instagram. And it has significant long-term opportunities around Messenger, WhatsApp..., and the Oculus VR hardware and software platforms."

He added: "[The] valuation is compelling – especially for a company growing its revenue in the 30% range with 50%+ operating margins."

Even after his more bearish note on the company, Wieser concurred, saying that despite the immediate headwinds and failures, "Facebook's long-term co-dominance of digital advertising alongside Google continues to seem likely to continue." The Pivotal Capital Markets analyst left his "buy" rating intact along with a $175 share-price target for year-end 2017. Facebook's shares closed Dec. 13 at $120.31.