Facebook Inc. has just made another friend on the Street.
BMO Nesbitt Burns analyst Dan Salmon reinstated coverage of the social networking site today with an "outperform" rating. That represents a two-notch upgrade from the "underperform" recommendation he last had on the stock. (BMO was restricted from covering Facebook for the past two months.)
It's particularly notable because, as Marketwatch points out, Mr. Salmon had been the last Wall Street analyst to have the equivalent of a sell rating on Facebook. There are now at least 20 buy ratings on Facebook and 8 holds, according to Zack's Investment Research.
It points to a brighter year ahead for the company after its disappointing initial public offering last May wound up creating a lot of enemies. The IPO price was set at $38, but shortly plummeted by more than 50 per cent.
Mr. Salmon raised his fourth-quarter revenue estimate to a Street high $1.696-billion (U.S.). And he jacked up his estimate for 2013 annual revenue growth to 30 per cent from 22 per cent.
Mr. Salmon's new price target is $32, up from $15. That now matches the median price target on the Street right now, where estimates range from $15 to $38, according to Thomson First Call.
Here's what Mr. Salmon had to say:
"We believe Facebook is experiencing a reacceleration of ad spending from large brands that are returning for mobile "reach & frequency" and more video ads. We also believe direct response (DR) advertisers are now armed with a proper set of ad buying tools; while Facebook Exchange receives most of the attention, Custom Audiences is what we hear the best feedback about. Moreover, Facebook is more fully embracing native monetization like Sponsored Stories and Gifts, and conversations with agency contacts indicate Facebook has improved its outreach to Madison Avenue. Top risks include: 1) investor expectations for paid search and ad network businesses remain too high; 2) potential engagement attrition due to over-commercialization, and 3) a "portfolio of social networks" strategy that is still in its early stages."