Facebook’s problems ‘likely to worsen’ in 2019

Technology giant Facebook is in for another tough year as marketers ramp up their scrutiny of the platform, according to Pivotal Research analyst Brian Wieser who has reaffirmed his “sell” rating on the company’s stock.

Facebook Inc.’s profit machine showed little wear and tear from the beating the social-media giant has received lately in Washington, though chief executive Mark Zuckerberg warned the political pressure could soon take a toll.

After briefly mentioning Facebook’s strong third-quarter financial performance on a quarterly earnings call Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg defended the company’s controversial moves that have made it a punching bag on the 2020 campaign trail and on Capitol Hill.

“Facebook’s problems seem likely to worsen from here (which is saying something considering the year it had in 2018),” said Brian Wieser in a note Monday, citing the unwitting sharing of consumer data, the threat of legislation and Facebook’s role in spreading political messages as issues it is grappling with.

Advertisers are reviewing their relationships with Facebook, said Wieser, who is known for being downbeat on the company. “Advertising seems like the least of the company’s worries, although we think that marketers are enhancing their scrutiny of the platform, which may contribute to further deceleration in revenue growth. The toxicity of the company may also deter commercial partners from choosing to work with Facebook, or otherwise make terms less attractive to Facebook.”

Wieser maintained his “sell” recommendation on the stock and revised the price down to $113 from $125. According to Reuters data, 40 analysts have a “strong-buy” or “buy” rating on Facebook with nine having a “hold” rating. Just three analysts have a “strong sell” or” sell” rating on the company with Pivotal being one of them.

The company had a tough 2018. In March, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica got access to data from 87 million user-profiles and later that month Facebook took out newspaper ads to apologize. In May, the company announced a major reorganization as part of CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s mission to “fix” Facebook.

In October, the company had to remove hundreds of accounts that were spreading military propaganda in Myanmar and said it would continue to take action. It also got rid of Facebook and Instagram accounts that were created by Russian trolls ahead of the November midterm elections and said it would continue to invest in security and that the public and private sectors would need to work together to prevent election interference.

Regulation of the platform is also being mooted by legislators and this is likely to be costly, Wieser notes. “Regulatory action seems inevitable, but the shape it will take is unclear, and the follow-on ramifications across the company — from managerial changes at the top to an imposition of new working processes in order to avoid future problems — could be significant, and potentially more expensive than the company (or most of the investment community) anticipates.”

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