Facebook’s “rigid and insular management style could lead to a long road to recovery” for the beleaguered social network, according to a new research note by Scott Devitt, an analyst at Stifel Financial.
Devitt lowered his 12-month price target on the company’s stock to $150 from $186, but reiterated a “buy” rating on Facebook stock. Even so, he pointed to Amazon and Google parent Alphabet as preferable investment targets. “If Facebook is able to get through 2019 without further reputational or business damage, visibility into 2020 could present a better setup for the shares,” he wrote.
The company has faced backlash from investors, users and government officials throughout the past several months, but an especially intense wave of it accompanied a New York Times investigation published November 14. The article detailed efforts by executives to “delay, deny and deflect” criticism of the uses and misuses of Facebook’s global platform. The catalog of concerns includes Russian hackers spreading fake news and swaying the 2016 election; the promote genocide in Myanmar; and the misuse of user data by firms such as the notorious and now defunct Cambridge Analytica.
Partly due to the broader tech selloff and partly due to its own missteps, Facebook shares are poised for their first down year since the company went public in 2012. They have gained more than 2% today but in 2018 to date they have fallen almost 30%.
When the Times story hit, prompting an unusually long and agonizing filibuster by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Devitt joined other voices in the investment community calling for a management shake-up. Zuckerberg, who retains 60% voting control of the company, has resisted giving up the title of chairman, as some have recommended.
Questions continue to swirl about the role COO Sheryl Sandberg will play in 2019 and beyond. In a move that raised eyebrows, she did not join Zuckerberg and two other executives on Facebook’s November 15 call responding to the Times and offering updates on its efforts to stamp out bad behavior on the social network.