Over the past several decades, the title of King of Tech has been passed around from household name to household name. Microsoft (MSFT) was once on top, driving the world of computers with the go-to software, before entering what most shareholders would view as a lost decade. Apple (AAPL) briefly enjoyed to top spot, using iPhone sales to rocket the company to the "biggest company of earth" title about a year ago. But over the last decade, despite Apple's brief appearance in the stratosphere, the real King of Tech has been Google (GOOG), steadily marching higher and quietly executing a world-beating strategy.
Along comes Facebook (FB), with its botched IPO, lack of faith by Wall Street that it could successfully monetize its huge user base, and general concern that the "fad" of Facebook would pass, and the stock has doubled over the course of the past three months. If you take a moment to reflect on that, it means a huge growth story because we are not talking about a microcap stock - Facebook has a market cap today of nearly $120 billion, meaning it started this run around a market cap of $60 billion. There are some solid reasons that the stock has performed, but one must now ask if Facebook can legitimately challenge Google as the King of Tech.
Driving Real Growth
Perhaps the most significant figure included in the company's most recent earnings release was the fact that for the quarter, Facebook had earned $656 million from advertising revenue. That number becomes even more impressive when you look at the fact that 41% of that revenue came from the mobile space. Ad revenue has long been the near-exclusive prevue of the King of Search, so for Facebook to put up these types of numbers is significant. Mobile advertising is likely to be one of the most critical growth areas for both Google and Facebook, so Facebook's ability to gain some traction in the area is key.
While solid earnings from the social networking giant did quiet some of the fears about Facebook's ability to generate a profit, the stock has had a few bumps. A few days ago, Raymond James downgraded the stock from "Strong Buy" to "Outperform." Despite the downgrade, the company's price target still climbed by $18 per share. Analyst Aaron Kessler wrote: "We maintain our positive fundamental view on Facebook and expect (third quarter) upside driven by strong traction with mobile advertising, as well as newer ad formats." He sees mobile ad growth of around 23%.
Still Not Ready for the Crown
FB data by YCharts
While Facebook is looking strong, there is no danger that the stock will grow into its P/E of 220 in the immediate term. The company is well on its way, and I would consider beginning to build a position on pullbacks, but Google remains the King of Tech. Facebook will need to continue to grow earnings and demonstrate that it can maintain relevance, but Google's diversification is simple too good as things stand to warrant taking its crown.
Google has no plans to give up the crown without a fight. As of IDC's last quarterly report, Android boasted 79.3% of global smartphone market share, the company just released a new HP (HP) branded Chromebook for $279, and the Chrome OS is being advertised like never before. While Google Glass may not have been a hit, Google Chromecast has already become a significant force in streaming video devices. Finally, despite Facebook's successes, Google is still the dominant player in the ad space and should not be counted out by a long shot. Google has showed a few signs of weakness, trading down near $850 per share, but this, I believe is broad market driven and may be a buying opportunity. With solid earnings and a P/E of about 25, I still think Google can be added to your portfolio on any pullbacks.
Ultimately, as much as I like Facebook's longer-term prospects - for the first time in some time - Google remains the King of Tech and the safer play at current levels. Facebook may trade higher from here, but I would not be initiating a large position after a 100% run. That said, selective buying for the long term might make sense. Google belongs in every tech portfolio, even at current levels.