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Stocks  | April 22, 2020

Shares of Google parent Alphabet Inc. and Facebook Inc. were hit hard Tuesday, as part of a broad technology-sector selloff, after Wall Street analysts cut their price targets and warned about further weakness in online advertising sales.

Alphabet’s stock dropped 3.9% in midday trading and Facebook shares shed 4.2%, to outpace the S&P 500 index’s 3.0% drop.

Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler slashed his stock price target for Alphabet by nearly 10% to $1,425 and for Facebook by 20% to $215.

Kessler also cut his 2020 revenue estimates by 14% for Alphabet and by 15% for Facebook, citing weakness in digital advertising as the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted consumer spending. He lowered his 2021 forecasts for Alphabet by 10% and for Facebook by 12%.

While some data suggests the worst may have passed in March, improvement in April has been very category specific, as e-commerce has gotten a boost but restaurant data remains soft and travel has been effectively shut down.

“We also expect [small- and medium-size] business spend to remain soft near-term, which we expect to have more negative impacts on Google and Facebook,” Kessler wrote in a note to clients.

Deutsche Bank’s Lloyd Walmsley also reduced his price targets, as he expects trends in online advertising to be weaker exiting the first quarter, then fall toward a bottom in the second quarter before beginning a prolonged “uncertain recovery” in the third quarter, that lasts into 2021. His price target for Alphabet drops by 11% to $1,515 and for Facebook falls by 29% to $200.

Walmsley also lowered his target for Twitter Inc.’s stock by 37%, to $22. The stock, which slumped 6.0% in midday trading, was still 15% above his price target.

He now expects internet advertising across the major public platforms to decline by 16% in the second quarter, and 2% for the year, although his conviction is low given the uncertainties surrounding the economic outlook. Still, despite the recent weakness, the stock’s are still far from cheap.

“Valuation looks stretched across the space on our new numbers (similar to the market as a whole), making us less enthused on the 12-month upside from here,” Walmsley wrote.

The selloff in the internet leaders comes as the technology sector was taking another broad beating Tuesday.

To put the sector’s weakness in perspective, despite the historic crash in oil prices, the SPDR Technology Select Sector exchange-traded fund slumped 4.3% on the day, and 5.8% over the past two days, while the SPDR Energy Select Sector ETF declined 2.1% on Tuesday and 5.2% this week. Meanwhile, continuous crude oil futures plummeted 45%.

And the technology-heavy Nasdaq-100, in which technology has a 55.4% weighting, fell 3.8%, with only one component gaining ground.

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