Pivotal Research: Sell Facebook Stock Before ‘Cookie-Pocalypse’

Johor, Malaysia - Jan 1, 2014: Photo of Facebook icon and cash money. Marketers are starting to embrace the social network as a place to do business. Jan 1, 2014 in Johor, Malaysia.

Pivotal Research analyst Michael Levine has cut his rating on Facebook Inc. stock and urged savvy investors to dump the social-network’s shares.

Levine fears both Google’s new policy on the use of advertising cookies in Chrome, and weakening demand for direct-to-consumer brands as a result, Barron’s explained.

Levine worries about a looming “cookie-pocalypse.” He contends investors are “being way too complacent” regarding the impact of a major policy change in Alphabet’s (GOOGL) Google Chrome made on Feb. 4.

“In effect, this will restrict some of the capabilities of third-party cookies, making it more challenging to utilize inputs from cross-site behavior,” he writes in a research note. When combined with Apple’s (AAPL) recent iOS 13 launch, which sends consumers reminders when apps are tracking their location, “this has wide ramifications for the advertising ecosystem.”

Levine fears Facebook’s exposure to direct-to-consumer advertising, which relies in part on cookies to reach targeted consumers. “We are increasingly concerned about the online ad ecosystem’s [direct to consumer] exposure,” he says. “Combined with our views about the cookie-pocalypse…it pushes us over the edge” on Facebook shares, Barron’s quoted him as saying.

Levine slashed his rating to “sell” from “hold.” Levine also lowered the Facebook stock-price (FB) target to $180 from $215. Facebook stock early Wednesday was at $208.

Meanwhile, the Federal Trade Commission said on Tuesday it ordered Alphabet Inc.’s Google unit, Amazon.com Inc., Apple Inc., Facebook and Microsoft Corp. to provide information on mergers that were too small to report to antitrust regulators. The agency is concerned that big tech companies are unfairly engaging in potential anti-competitive behavior, Reuters reported.

The queries come as the Justice Department, the FTC, state attorneys general and the House Judiciary Committee are investigating the big tech platforms, which are accused of unfairly using their clout to defend market share or expand into adjacent markets.

Much of the criticism has focused on massive deals such as Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram and Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, but the companies also have spent billions on smaller companies, dramatically changing the competitive landscape in emerging tech sectors.

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