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Facebook shares soar on analyst upgrade, report of headway in China

SAN FRANCISCO -- Facebook shares reached new highs Tuesday after an upgrade from an analyst and a report that the social network may have gotten its foot in the door in China.

Shares have more than doubled in the last 52 weeks. They were up $1.69, or 4%, to $49.01. Shares hit an all-time high of $49.66 earlier in the day.

Citi analyst Mark May upgraded his rating to “buy” from “neutral,” saying he anticipates more growth, especially in mobile advertising revenue. He raised his price target to $55 from $32.

Among the highlights of the report: May expects Facebook shares to be added to the S&P 500 by year’s end. He also said that rolling out advertising on Facebook’s photo-sharing service Instagram could push shares higher.

Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia said Tuesday that Facebook may have gotten a toehold in China based on a report in the South China Morning Post that said China is planning to lift its ban on Facebook, Twitter and other websites in Shanghai’s new free-trade zone.

China’s ruling Community Party censors the Internet, blocking access to websites. Facebook and Twitter were blocked by Beijing in 2009 after deadly riots in the western province of Xinjiang.

“While the lifting of the ban on Facebook in China is currently limited only to the Shanghai Free Trade Zone, it is an important first step,” Bhatia wrote in a research report.

If Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg wants to realize his mission of connecting all 7 billion people on the planet, he cannot afford to skip over the world's most populous nation, home to 1.3 billion people.

Facebook has been on a tear since July when it posted big gains on higher revenue from mobile ads. The second-quarter report has helped the giant social network regain favor with investors.

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