RBC Analyst Issues Note on Facebook’s Threat to Google

RBC Capital Markets analyst Ross Sandler issued a 15-page note analyzing the different reasons Facebook poses a threat to Google this morning.

Henry Blodget over at SAI has all the pertinent slides (as usual), and here are the highlights:

1) Sandler says by RBC projections Facebook could surpass Google in worldwide uniques by 2011-2012:

2) Sandler says Facebook is driving 19% of Google uniques, up from 9% a year ago. (Personally I’m a little confused by what exactly he means by “drive” here, because the data for all entry sources adds up to much more than 100% so I don’t think it’s accurate to call this pure referral traffic. Intuitively this claim doesn’t make sense personally as well.)

3) The report says Facebook and Google are “complimentary” for now, but Facebook is increasingly becoming the “starting point” on the internet for its users:

Google and Facebook are two of the fastest growing and largest companies on the internet, and thus far, Facebook’s ascendancy has likely helped Google gain share. 45% of monthly unique users go directly to Facebook (as a starting page), up from 39% a year ago. At the same time, Google is now driving 64% of Facebook’s uniques, up from 51% a year ago. Google.com, on the other hand, has a consistent 66% of its uniques as a starting page, same as a year ago. Google’s uniques via Facebook are growing at 188% y/y, and  now represent 19% of Google’s traffic (up from 9% 12-months ago)…

Facebook is actually positive and complementary for Google thus far, but that could change if Facebook’s rapid growth trajectory continues on its current path, or if/when social media can find a business model and attract ad dollars from other online media. At the very least, we think Facebook as the “starting point” for more and more users on the Internet could create some multiple compression for Google over time, if the momentum continues.

It’s interesting to see analysts starting to talk more publicly about Facebook these days. The company is very clearly on the radar of the research community on Wall Street.