Wells Fargo Offers Divided 2Q Preview on Facebook Inc (FB), Snap Inc (SNAP) and Twitter Inc (TWTR)

Wells Fargo analyst Peter Stabler may be casting his chips behind Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) ahead of the earnings roll, but he is far less confident on fellow social media competitors Snap Inc (NYSE:SNAP) and Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR). Whereas Facebook advertiser spending is quickly gaining in social advertising budget shares, Snap will be following a lackluster first quarter performance with less rocket growth, and Twitter is lacking in meaningful exposure in terms of advertising impressions. (To watch Stabler’s track record, click here)

Let’s take a closer look to see which internet media player will fare the best from the analyst’s stance:

Facebook Ad Spend Keeps Its Rapid-Fire Rise

Facebook will be posting its second-quarter print after the bell tolls next Wednesday and based on Stabler’s advertiser checks, he sees the social media titan’s advertising spending in great shape, as its quick-fire growth keeps racking up share gains in the social advertising budget arena.

Ahead of the print, the analyst continues to be staunchly in CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s favor, reiterating an Outperform rating on Facebook without listing a price target.

Stabler notes discussions with advertiser participants reveal core Facebook is slightly stronger than Instagram, as adoption so far of sponsored Instagram Stories has been “modest.” In fact, “Against a likely backdrop of still-strong spend growth, investment pace in relation to FB’s expense growth guide (40-50% growth in 2017 GAAP expenses) will likely remain a key point of debate,” adds the analyst.

Meanwhile, marketing developer checks paired with reports circulating likewise show further robust spending momentum this quarter. Even if yield compared to volume become more and more important to growth, the analyst finds search ending marketing agency Merckle’s second-quarter report that evaluated search and social advertising spending trends to leave him “encouraged.” It appears advertisers are spotting better cost per click, even in face of “ramping” CPM pricing.

However, while the analyst takes under account this “positive” research, he stands by his second-quarter revenue expectations resting 1% under consensus, pointing to foreign exchange trends, where he anticipates a greater headwind in the second quarter. Additionally, the analyst believes operating expense growth will continue to be a question mark hanging over Facebook, as the management team has underscored content coupled with moderation investments as roots behind the outlook calling for 40% to 50% in GAAP expense growth for the year.

For the first quarter, Facebook brought in 40% in GAAP expense growth, with the management team highlighting that this growth will continue to “ramp” throughout 2017, leading Stabler to project a 42% rise in year-over-year GAAP expenses for the second quarter. Just under the Street’s expectations for revenue and expense growth bolster the analyst’s expectations for EBITDA of $5.51 billion, resting about 2.5% under the present Street estimate. “We note that we are raising our 2018E GAAP EPS forecast to $5.79 from $5.29 previously, as we have adjusted our tax rate assumptions for 2018,” adds the analyst.

Stabler believes investors should take note to expense growth, elaborating, “Management has noted that FB plans to invest aggressively in content and moderation in 2017, though we believe that, given the company’s historical track record of conservative expense growth guidance, some investors may be discounting the scale of investment.”

“We believe that video monetization remains well below traditional News Feed monetization and that growth of video usage may be one factor in management’s stated caution with respect to revenue growth beyond 1H’17,” concludes Stabler.

TipRanks analytics indicate FB as a Strong Buy. Out of 32 analysts polled by TipRanks in the last 3 months, 30 are bullish on Facebook stock while 2 remain sidelined. With a return potential of 5%, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $172.90.

Snap’s Sluggish Growth Profile Leaves Wells Fargo Cautious Through 2020

Why is Stabler sidelined on Snap ahead of its second-quarter financial results due August 10th after the close? The analyst himself notes that even the Street’s expectations, not only for the quarter but for the rest of the year have been on a perpetual dip recently, especially on back of management comments delivered at investor conferences placing ad agency holding company seasonality as a driver touchstone behind revenue.

With the first quarter performance for Snap as a publicly traded company “muted” at best, the analyst believes the Street is too bullish on this popular Snapchat app parent company. Veering to the safe side when it comes to daily active user (DAU) growth for the company as well as monetization and an “unclear” small and medium-sized business (SMB) adoption trek when up against rival Facebook, the analyst is just not as confident on the stock.

As such, in his earnings preview, the analyst reiterates a Perform rating on shares of SNAP without suggesting a price target.

Not only does the analyst challenge that “Snap’s slower growth profile is strictly related to seasonality,” he also takes “a more cautious view on growth” from 2017 through the rest of his expectations for the next three years. Stabler specifically questions management about “seasonality” talk when he finds marketer checks are showing “continued share gains (albeit slower than previously expected) and stable pricing.”

True, Snap was innovative in the second quarter, but the analyst sizes up product intros as salmons swimming upstream compared to the DAU success of Lenses last year. With more and more push notification usage by both Snap as well as its rival competitor Instagram Stories boasting robust DAU growth, the analyst believes this uncovers “potentially muted DAU growth.”

“While we believe that some of the product introductions (e.g., Stories in Search and Snap Map) are likely to increase time spent per user, impact on daily active users is unclear. We note that we observed increased use by Snap of push notifications during the quarter (a tactic characterized by CEO Evan Spiegel as ‘growth hacking’ on the company’s 1Q earnings conference call), and we do not view the recent product releases as likely to drive growth comparable to that driven by Lenses in 2016. We also view FB’s disclosure of Instagram Stories having achieved 250MM daily active users in June […] as likely a negative for Snap’s usage growth, as rapid usage growth for Instagram Stories is likely limiting Snap’s new user growth opportunity to some extent, particularly in regions with lower overall Snapchat penetration and higher concentration of Android users,” contends Stabler, fearful Snap is up against some fierce competitors at the social media round table.

TipRanks analytics demonstrate SNAP as a Hold. Based on 29 analysts polled by TipRanks in the last 3 months, 11 rate a Buy on Snap stock, 14 maintain a Hold, while 4 issue a Sell. The 12-month average price target stands at $20.85, marking a 40% upside from where the stock is currently trading.

Twitter Up Against Direct Response Advertising Thorns

Twitter lacks strength when looking at direct response marketers, and Stabler has yet to see real strides being made to combat this softness ahead of next Thursday’s second-quarter print due before market open.

Therefore, when casting his dye on the social media platform, the analyst remains on the side of caution, reiterating a Perform rating on TWTR without listing a price target.

While advertiser checks are promising for Twitter, showcasing the company has kept up its social ad spending share, compared to a recent string of share losses in other quarters, the analyst screeches to the sidelines in terms of direct response advertising. However, Twitter’s video advertising products are making brand advertisers happy, and in general, investors are more encouraged approaching the financial results, as Stabler notes Twitter has just yielded three quarters in a row of daily active user (DAU) growth rises. Many have been left to cheer “the worst of Twitter’s challenges are behind the company,” and with the company eyeing better user experience as a priority, it is probable for the platform to rack up some gains in engagement.

It all comes down to users in the end, as Stabler opines, “[…] we continue to believe that user metric growth will be the most closely watched set of data with the 2Q print, as management continues to reiterate that improvements to user engagement and advertising products will take some time to translate into revenue growth.”

In the grand scheme of earnings, Stabler surmises, “Within user metrics, we believe the DAU data is far more relevant than MAU […] for the simple reason that we continue to believe that Twitter has—in comparison to FB and SNAP—a large, lightly tethered audience that may only use the site/app infrequently, or perhaps for just minutes a month. In this case—as with competitors—we believe these users are of little economic value as they don’t generate significant behavioral data for targeting purposes and by definition don’t have significant exposure to advertising impressions.”

TipRanks analytics exhibit TWTR as a Hold. Out of 27 analysts polled by TipRanks in the last 3 months, 3 are bullish on Twitter stock, 16 remain sidelined, and 8 are bearish on the stock. With a loss potential of 24%, the stock’s consensus target price stands at $15.63.

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