Former equity analyst, domain name broker, and social networking early adopter Lou Kerner shares here his (and his co-author, Eli Halliwell’s) research in to the true market value of Facebook:

Current trading price in private market: $38      Target price:     $100

 

Overview:

  • Facebook is the most powerful website the world has known : With over 400 million reported users spending an average of 55 minutes per day on its site, Facebook is the most ubiquitous and transformative media company on the planet poised to create tremendous shareholder value as it begins to monetize its vast audience. Facebook already has ¾ the reach of Google and three times the average time spend per user, yielding Facebook double Google’s aggregate global time spent; and Facebook is on a dramatically steeper growth curve, growing its reach by 150%+ in 2009 vs. 40% growth for Google.
  • Facebook already drives more traffic to the leading portals than Google: While Google has long been the major driver of traffic to the majority of websites in the world, “friendcasting” on Facebook (when a friend uploads a link to content and someone clicks on it) is already a larger driver of traffic to sites like Yahoo and MSN than Google, according to Compete.com. If Facebook successfully leverages its new relationship with Microsoft’s Bing, implements more social search tools, grows its fan pages, and enables the continued natural growth of “friendcasting”, Facebook should surpass Google as the largest driver of traffic globally later this year.
  • Facebook is tracking to be a $100B company: Google has demonstrated how to monetize the time and data users give to the site daily. Facebook’s potential to monetize both time spent and data shared may be even greater than Google as it generates more time and significantly greater data on its users. Facebook also benefits from a network effect that doesn’t exist at Google. Each incremental user adds geometric value to the network. As Facebook achieves its goal of building the dominant global networked communications platform, it will begin to leverage its reach and earn its share of global advertising, ecommerce and payment revenues, possibly rivaling Google’s earnings potential. We estimate that Facebook will be worth more than $100 billion by 2015 using the same multiples on Facebook’s forecast 2015 EBITDA as Google is valued at today. More aggressive (but still reasonable) multiples and growth rates would yield values rivaling Google’s market cap of $140+ billion, ex cash.
  • Facebook is worth $50B today: If Facebook is worth $100 billion in 2015, discounting that valuation back to today with a 15% discount rate, gives the company a current value of ~$50 billion. Regardless of the discount rate you use, Facebook offers a very compelling investment opportunity at current prices.
  • Facebook is privately traded at 60%+ discount to its current value: Most investors don’t know you can buy Facebook shares today, pre-IPO. While the market for Facebook shares is not robust, there were millions of shares traded last year through private marketplace websites like Second Market.com, SharePost.com and others. Only accredited investors are allowed to participate. Currently, ask prices are about $38/share, implying a market cap for Facebook of ~$19 billion. Relative to the $50 billion fair market value we see in the company, this represents a 60%+ liquidity discount.
  • Facebook only has to earn $7 per user in EBITDA to justify our valuation: Dividing our $50B target by Google’s current trading multiple of 18X EBITDA implies that Facebook currently has earnings power of $2.8B in EBITDA. Dividing the $2.8B by the current base of 400 million users implies $7 of EBITDA per Facebook user. Facebook will have far more than 400 million users in 2015, so this is a conservative estimate. Even at $7/user, our projection is that Facebook would earn significantly less per user than other major internet companies. Amazon earns $15/user; Google earns $20/user; and eBay earns $34/user. While each of these companies operates with different business models, they all rely on aggregating huge volumes of users to create value for their investors. Facebook will earn ad revenue like Google, commissions on transactions like Amazon and eBay, and fees on payment processing like eBay. In presenting this metric we are demonstrating that even if Facebook’s earnings power is significantly less per user than other major internet players, it would still command a $100B market cap.

Quick Facts (according to Facebook , Alexa.com and Compete.com):

  • #2 website globally in total page views behind Google; should pass Google in first half of 2010.
  • At 30%, Facebook has the same global reach that Google had 1 year ago.
  • Both Google and Facebook should have global reach of ~50% by end of 2010.
  • 2 years ago Facebook’s global reach was just 6%.
  • Internet users spend 3x as much time on a Facebook page as they spend on a Google page.
  • Over 700mm pieces of content are uploaded on Facebook daily (eg. 100mm photos daily).
  • Average user spends 55 minutes/day (~23% of total time online) on Facebook, 50% of users log on daily.
  • 67% of US online users are on Facebook.
  • ~70% of Facebook users live outside the US.
  • Among top 36 countries: Facebook’s page view rank is #1 in 4 countries; #2 in 23 countries; #3 in 9 countries.
  • Facebook just received approval for patenting its news feed, the core functionality of its website.

Investment Thesis:

Facebook is already the world’s dominant website

  • However you measure it, Facebook’s global scale and growth are astounding. Of its reported 400+ million users, ~120 million are in the US.That’s 120 million out of ~180 million US internet users (according to Commscore); indicating that about two-thirds of all US internet users are now on Facebook. Facebook says the average user is on Facebook 55 minutes per day, out of a total average of four hours per day of total internet usage by the average US internet user. Those statistics are consistent with recent research based on Compete.com statistics indicating that Facebook now accounts for 25% of total US internet page views and 15% of page views in the UK. As a result of its dramatic surge in uniques and page views, Facebook is now directing more traffic to major portals like Yahoo and MSN than Google through “friendcasting” – the name given to the process of clicking on a link your friends post in their Facebook newsfeed.In this report we want to discuss two implications of Facebook’s dramatic growth.

Facebook has blown by MySpace in social networking and is poised to pass Google in 2010 in directed traffic

  • The world of television presented us with about 10 channels in the 70’s, which grew to 500 channels as digital proliferated in the late 90’s. The internet now brings us hundreds of millions of channels (i.e. websites, Facebook profile pages, blogs, etc.), which we have only been able to navigate with search. Yahoo dominated search in the early days, but they were passed by Google when Google came up with a better algorithm presented in a simpler design. Because they are the dominant search engine, Google emerged in the early part of the last decade as the dominant source of traffic for most sites.
  • MySpace was the early dominant “social network”, but the users weren’t really networked. We had to surf MySpace or hope someone came to our MySpace page to get any real value, and significant technical improvements were glacial.
  • Facebook’s improvements were simple but monumental. They used basic newsfeed technology to enable us to know what our friends are doing, thinking, buying, playing, or posting, simply by going to our own newsfeed.They also opened up their platform to third party developers, who quickly provided the Facebook community with a wide array of incredibly popular applications like Farmville, which has over 80 million players. In fact, Facebook states that there are more then 250 applications that have more then 1 million active users. While many of us used to go to Google to find the latest news, or would surf major or minor news sites to see what was going on in our world, our news and information is increasingly brought to us by friends who post news of interest to them or about them, which appears in our newsfeed. Friendcasting on Facebook will be complimented by Facebook’s increasingly deep integration of Bing’s search tools on Facebook, as well as by other social search applications on Facebook that let us mine the behavior and opinions of our friends. We believe Facebook will pass Google in terms of traffic generation to other websites in 2010.
  • Because we tell Facebook so much about ourselves, and because we spend so much time on Facebook, Facebook knows dramatically more about us than any other website in history, and Facebook’s willingness to share this data makes them an incredibly attractive partner to websites who like user data (which is almost every website). The question now is: how will Facebook leverage its powerful position to generate revenue and profits for their shareholders?

Facebook will be worth over $100 billion

  • Facebook will generate revenue from advertising, both display ads and through increasingly integrated search tools. Microsoft’s Bing, as the search provider on Facebook worldwide, compliments Facebook’s powerful “friendcasting”. Rather than merely offering links, the Bing integration will present more of the features available on the search engine itself. For display advertising, Facebook will increasingly be presenting ad formats that feature social actions. Social integrated ads perform better and provide a better user experience since they are consistent with the context and feel of Facebook. Facebook ads will also be increasingly targeted to people based on the information they provide Facebook. This combination of targeting and social relevance will drive enhanced performance and rates for Facebook display ads.
  • Global internet advertising is poised to grow to $96 billion in 2015 (according to Magna), a 10.5% five year CAGR. Traditionally in media, companies with scale are able to grab outsize share of ad spend. Therefore, as Facebook has the most global scale, its safe to assume that Facebook will attract its fair share of the market. While Facebook is still growing rapidly, we assume in our valuation thesis that they account for only 15% of total internet traffic in 2015. According to Drake Direct, based on Compete.com data, Facebook is already at 15% in the UK, and they are at ~25% in the US. We believe 15% is a conservative view of Facebook’s page view and time spend share in 2015, given its current trajectory. We estimate that Facebook’s 15% share of the global internet audience yields them a 15% share of the global internet advertising market, yielding a forecast of $14.5 billion in advertising revenue in 2015. Today this may seem like an aggressive assumption based on the fact that Facebook currently does not command a comparable CPM to many other websites for their display ads. But Facebook has just really begun to monetize their traffic and weave in targeting and social relevance, and they haven’t even begun monetizing social search. Where Google offers advertisers strong targeting for purchase intent, Facebook is the holy grail of targeted brand advertising, and is posed to make significant headway in search.
  • Facebook Connect is another powerful platform for Facebook to leverage and eventually monetize its user data. Facebook Connect is quickly becoming a de facto registration platform on the net. Currently, over 80,000 sites have already implemented Facebook Connect, including many large sites like CNN. Facebook Connect is emerging as the internet “passport” that enables people to enter any website, as well as interact with their friends who are also on that website. This will likely become another significant revenue platform, as Facebook could potentially harness Facebook Connect to create a leading ad network, leveraging their deep relationships with advertisers and their mountains of user data. For purposes of this analysis, we’ll assume they derive zero revenue from Facebook Connect in 2015. Therefore, in our analysis, investors are getting a free call on this massive business opportunity.
  • Next up, and just as interesting, is Facebook’s recently introduced payment system. Initial testing on Facebook indicates Facebook consumers prefer Facebook’s system to the other payment systems available on Facebook.Facebook is charging a whopping 30% fee to the publishers selling virtual goods (similar to Apple’s 30% take on applications sold on its iPhone platform). The system includes many other benefits for publishers (e.g. preferred placement in the gaming directory, better advertising rates) that only Facebook can provide. Analysts estimate that Facebook’s payment system will grab more then 50% share of payments on Facebook and generate $200 million this year based on projected sales well north of $1 billion in virtual goods in 2010. But payments on Facebook will be just the beginning for the payment system. Facebook Payments is well positioned to take meaningful share from PayPal all over the internet as users will increasingly be using Facebook Connect on ecommerce sites around the net. Paypal is expected to generate $3.3 billion in revenue on a base of 88mm active accounts in 2010. We believe Facebook Payments could grow to a $2 billion dollar business by 2015.
  • Given the simple analysis above, we project Facebook will drive $16.5 billion in revenue in 2015. While this is a big number, it is just over 1/3 of what Google would be projected to generate in 2015 if Google grew revenue at a 12% CAGR (about ½ it’s recent revenue CAGR of 20%). For ease, we assume Facebook achieves the same 35% EBITDA margin as Google is currently experiencing. Let’s similarly assume that Facebook, as a public company, would be valued using the same EBITDA multiple as Google is valued at today, which is 18X 2009 EBITDA. The math above implies a value of $103 billion based on 2015 projections.

Facebook is worth $50 billion today

  • If we discount $103 billion back by 15% per year, we get a price target of $51 billion today. This implies a value that is more than two-and-a-half times the $19 billion value Facebook shares are currently trading at on secondary private marketplaces. The table below looks at how our valuation would vary depending on various multiples and discount rates. Even at a 21% discount rate, Facebook would be worth more than 2x the current share price.

 

  • Another way to value Facebook helps put our target in to perspective. Based on current membership levels, we are valuing Facebook at $125 a member.If Facebook were valued on an 18X multiple of EBITDA today, that implies that Facebook has the power to generate $7 in EBITDA on average off its members, or $20 on average per member in revenue (assuming 35% margins). Neither number appears a stretch. Amazon earns $15/user in EBITDA, Google currently earns $20/user, and EBAY earns $34/user. We recognize these companies all have different business models, but we think it is helpful to put some context around our $7 EBITDA per Facebook user projection.
  • Is a 15% discount rate too low given that we’ve seen other social networks appear and then fade, most recently MySpace? We’ve seen other internet leaders founder – is Facebook like Yahoo? Is it possible Facebook is just a fad, as some argue? Our thesis is that Facebook is already deeply ingrained in our daily lives, and this is just the beginning. There are many reasons why the switching costs are significant, and Facebook keeps adding new ones – most recently Facebook was granted a patent on “the feed”, a core feature of Facebook’s functionality. Facebook is averaging over 100 million photos uploaded per day. People don’t like to leave those behind. With an average of 130 friends per user, almost everyone has many connections that only exist on Facebook. The average person is a member of 13 groups. As we increasingly move to mobile, we are bringing Facebook with us. The Facebook iPhone app has been downloaded by over 28 million people. In addition, every wireless operator is advertising the availability of Facebook apps on their phones.
  • Maybe our estimates are too conservative? 15% share of online ad revenue and 35% operating margins could prove too low. The data table below shows that each 1 percentage point of share of the online ad market for Facebook is worth $3 billion present value at a 35% margin. With 30% reach of global internet usage today, it is conceivable that Facebook ad share could be well over 15%.

Facebook shares are available for accredited investors to buy and sell, and the current value is $19 billion

  • There is a secondary private market for Facebook shares on sites like Sharepost.com and SecondMarket.com that make markets in shares of dozens of private firms, enabling employees to monetize some of their options.
  • After proving you’re an accredited investor, the transaction is papered, with the seller paying transaction costs.
  • While Facebook enables employees to sell their shares, the buyers of these common shares are prohibited from subsequently trading their shares until Facebook goes public or is acquired.
  • Right now, shares are being offered at $36-$38 per share, implying a market cap of $19 billion.

Catalysts:

  • With only $600 million in rumored revenue in 2009, Facebook has done little to monetize its vast reach. As Facebook revenue generating initiatives start to scale, private market values should increase.
  • When the company goes public, the liquidity discount will evaporate and prices will rise to fair value.

Risks:

  • Shares bought in the secondary private market are not liquid and do not entitle the owner to the information usually provided by public companies to their investors.
  • Another competitor could arise and take market share from Facebook. In fact, to the degree that Facebook attracts 15%+ of all internet time, every other website on average is generating 15% less traffic. So it’s easy to imagine other sites working together to try and thwart Facebook. But like Google, other websites will increasingly see Facebook as a “frenemy”, a strong competitor for the mindshare of internet users but also a driver of massive traffic.
  • Facebook either may not be capable of or may not be concerned with generating massive revenue or going public. This is unlikely since history has shown that once eyeballs are assembled, advertising and other monetization opportunities present themselves. Some people thought no one would advertise on MySpace, and they were proven wrong. And Facebook is far more advertising friendly than MySpace as pages are much less free form. While a few companies (most notably CraigsList) appear uninterested in maximizing revenue, Facebook’s significant VC investors will help drive both monetization and an eventual liquidity event. In addition, like Google, Facebook will need to generate cash to help finance its increasing spend on R&D to drive innovation.
  • Privacy remains a significant concern of internet users globally, and with all the data Facebook aggregates and make available, they are walking a fine line. Facebook has clearly had some missteps in the past, most notably its Beacon information sharing product in 2007 that caused an outcry from privacy groups. They have also had technical glitches, one as recent as last week where messages were misrouted. As a result of these lapses, Facebook is acutely aware of the privacy issue and they appear to be thoughtful in their approach. Google also struggles with privacy, as evidenced by their recent bungling of the introduction of Google Buzz.
  • Given Facebook’s increasing stranglehold on internet usage, governments in the U.S. and elsewhere could step in and, in some way, break up the near natural monopoly on social networking that Facebook will have.

Lou Kerner currently runs a portfolio of parked domain names and is COO of Gamers Media, an ad network for online casual gaming sites. Lou has a BA in Economics from UCLA and an MBA from Stanford University. This article is reprinted from a research report published yesterday on the research site track.com, a subscription site featuring the work of ex-Wall Street analysts.  Mr. Kerner’s personal website can be found at http://loukerner.tumblr.com/.

Techcrunch featured a map of Social Network Dominance in a June 2009 article on their website.

The December 2009 Alexa & Google Trends figures are in, and things have changed enough to clearly show Facebook’s rapid domination of the Social Network space (With nary a sign of MySpace in sight!):

In recent news, the country of Sweden crashed: Apparently it is possible to cause every single address in a domain to go down (in this case, .se), by making a simple script error during routine maintenance…whodathunk? I shudder to think what may happen when routine maintenance on the .com domain takes place…

In another bit of “wish I’d never done that” news, Tim Berners-Lee just admitted that the forward slashes in the Web’s URL design protocol were both unnecessary and – in his words – a mistake. With this in mind, I thought it might be fun to wander around the Web, and the Internet as a whole, just to see what we could find, by way of unfortunate stories we may have forgotten, or never even known about…things that “seemed like a good idea at the time”. We’re getting closer to the end of the year, when all those retrospectives come out, and I thought this would be as good a time as any to think back, only not just over the past year, but further. After all, it’s the history we forget that we so often tend to repeat…

Do you remember GeoCities? If you thought they died a long time ago, you might be surprised to hear that Yahoo, who acquired them back when people thought dot-coms would never bomb, recently (as in October 26th, 2009) announced GeoCities was closing its doors. Talk about limping along…

Then there are the ISPs. I was a Mindspringer for the longest time, one of the first evangelists for the brand (until Earthlink purchased them). Along with the likes of Prodigy (still shuffling along, believe it or not, as owner AT&T tries to find someone stupid enough to buy something worth nothing), AOL (reinventing itself every day, yet still deriving the largest measure of its revenue from good old (and I mean old!) dial-up subscriptions), and Netzero (reduced to net zero, as they try to find new ways to also rejigger the fact that they are still a dial-up ISP), Mindspring was a pioneer doomed to be eclipsed by telcos who learned from their mistakes.

When we think back to the search engines, the list is long: Webcrawler, AltaVista (technically still around), Lycos…heck, I’m just scraping the tip of the iceberg, and have already lost interest. Did you know that AltaVista had a chance to buy Google’s search technology way back when, and passed? Whoops. Google, contrary to its current well-deserved reputation, was not innovative at all when it first opened for business. It was efficient and analytical. Its algorithms reinvented web search, based on the ideas of its predecessors, good and bad alike. Some people call that reinventing the wheel, but they at least have not rested on their laurels.

Many websites that burned brightly for only a short while were decried as unsustainable business models (remember Pets.com, Webvan, eToys, Kibu, and Kozmo?), and yet their model has since been adapted and proven successful (Petedge, Upco, Fosters &Smith, Amazon, Barbie.com, Tesco, to name but a few comparable online ventures that seem to have “made it”). Timing is all, it would indeed seem, or at least kinda crucial.

For some, it was all about effective marketing and brand awareness…or the lack thereof: Akimbo.com failed because they could not manage to communicate their value proposition to their target market, among other “challenges”; Hulu succeeded (where Joost, Veoh, Vimeo, and others have not – to varying degrees) because they realized their brand strength was tied to the apron strings of their partners. OK, it certainly didn’t hurt that the networks who own the content it distributes also own Hulu!..

In other cases, interactive success came as a result of reinvention: the transition (or should I say ‘desertion”?) from Microsoft Live Search to today’s “Bing” *might* finally establish MSFT as a competitor to Google, in much the same way as Firefox is to the Redmond giant’s own browser…well, without the Open Source stuff!

Now,who uses RSS? I’m sure it some value, but not yet for me. I subscribe to several feeds, and all I do is trash the avalanche of junk in my inbox each morning. Until people learn to self police their content (be it RSS feeds, Tweets, or Facebook Mafia War activities), the internet is going to continue to burn through ideas like flames across the Verdugo mountains.  There is too much information online, and we want tools that will filter and control the flood of data, not simply fractionalize it. After all, half of infinity is still infinity.

Some companies have good ideas, easily replicable by larger or later-in-the-game interests. Kiko developed a web based calendar, which seems like a great idea, unless you factor that it was not sufficiently proprietary of a business model to prevent Google from developing its own Google Calendar app.; and  HotorNot.com and Friendster were arguably ripped off by what is known today as Facebook (originally Facemash). Several companies are in the process of trying to beat TVguide.com at its own game (something that seems – at first glance – to be a good idea, given that the TVGuide.com site is not so great). However, couchville.com was there first, and since departed. Branding is worth a lot these days, in a very cluttered marketplace and, unless you are a captive subscriber (using ATT/Yahoo TV portal, for instance), or an early adopter (of which there are far fewer than those of us on the East and West Coasts might believe).

Some ideas are not so much failures as temporary successes, taking advantage of loopholes in the law or in best practices. P2P is one prime example, with different offerings coming and going (or continuing to exist despite obviously supporting illegal practices), but there are others, such as Yak4ever, the site that allows you to make free international calls, albeit through a slightly cumbersome process. Google Voice is another offering that seems destined to either succumb to the counterattacks of the powerful telco lobbies, or force a reinvention of telco laws.

Where such ongoing “could go either way” projects as MySpace.com,  Friendster (it’s still trying to make a go of it, my friends, and doing quite well in the Asia Pacific regions!), Kiva (currently under attack by folks who’d like to see it go the way of govWorks.com. Did you read the recent NYT article?), Project Natal, and James Cameron’s “Avatar” (had to throw that one in there!) end up is anybody’s guess. That’s where you come in: What failures and unforeseen successes do you recall? What is coming down the pike that you feel may completely reinvent interactive content production, storage, distribution, and/or consumption? Are you working on something that will make the Internet an even more robust tool and platform for communications, community and content? What does the Internet mean to you, beyond the conventional Web and email? What internet ventures do you feel will still be with us by the end of 2010?

History shows that much of what we praise today will be gone tomorrow.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp’d on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias, by Percy Shelley (1818)

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