Facebook tops General Electric in market value

Getty Images

The following is a free preview of CNBC Pro. To get more investment analysis and the live CNBC TV feed, please subscribe.

Facebook surpassed General Electric, which traces its history back to Thomas Edison and the first light bulb, in market value Thursday as the U.S. economy sheds the last of its industrial influence and moves firmly into a digital age decades in the making.

Exxon Mobil and Berkshire Hathaway are the only old industrial blue chips left among the companies in the U.S. with a market capitalization greater than $300 billion. Apple, Google and Microsoft have the largest market values in the country, followed by the oil giant and Warren Buffett's conglomerate. Facebook on Thursday joined in this mega-cap club after the online retailer topped $300 billion in value earlier this week.

Facebook rose 5 percent to $108.76 a share for a market value of $306 billion. GE was little changed for a market value of $299.6 billion.

While the seeds of this technological revolution began with Hewlett-Packard, IBM and Cisco many years ago, Facebook became a public company in 2012. It was founded 11 years ago in Mark Zuckerberg's dorm room at Harvard.

GE was formed in 1892 when Edison General Electric merged with Thomson-Houston company.

Wednesday evening, Facebook reported third-quarter net income of $896 million on revenue of $4.5 billion, higher than Wall Street expectations.

Three weeks ago, GE reported third-quarter earnings of $2.51 billion and revenue of $31.68 billion. The stock is up about 8 percent since that report, slightly higher than the S&P 500's return. Facebook shares are up 42 percent so far in 2015, compared to a 17 percent return for shares of General Electric.

Despite the stark contrast in revenue, investors are betting that over the long term, Facebook will make more money than GE by connecting people around the world and then monetizing those connections through advertising.

Wall Street analysts expect Facebook shares to climb 12 percent to $122 a share over the next 12 months, according to the consensus price target from FactSet. For GE, analysts see a gain of just 5 percent over the next year.

Read More Dot-com bellwethers lead market back near record

Nicole Sherrod, managing director of trading at TD Ameritrade, says that Facebook is wildly popular among retail investors and is currently the second-most widely held stock.

"Although Facebook costs increased this year, they have much more capital flexibility in capital allocation than GE, a less cyclical business, and tailwinds in terms of increasing web usage at the very root of their business model versus economic headwinds," said Stephen Weiss of Short Hills Capital Partners.

Read More Dan Loeb's two favorite long-term stock ideas

Lately, GE has actually made more of a return to its industrial history and is attempting this year to shed some of its financial units and its appliance division in order to focus more on the power, aviation and health-care sectors.

Other investors mourned the diminishing value of GE versus its technology-based peers.

"GE being trumped by Facebook tells us that we are turning into a nation intent upon games and silly little endeavors rather than focusing upon the making of real things like turbines, ships and railroads," said Dennis Gartman of The Gartman Letter. "This is a sad commentary on the world and is not a sign of progress but of regress."

Not to be left behind, GE now calls itself a "digital industrial" company under the "about" portion of its web site.