The Top Large-Cap Stock to Buy in 2017

By Joe Tenebruso Markets Fool.com

Large-cap stocks are typically defined as businesses with market valuations of at least $10 billion. They tend to be less volatile than smaller companies, so they can provide a degree of safety and stability to your portfolio.

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The best large caps, however, offer much more. They possess dominant competitive advantages that allow them to take share from weaker rivals, as well as massive growth opportunities that can fuel years of outsized gains for investors.

Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) excels in both of these areas perhaps more than any other large-cap company, and its stock appears set to deliver strong returns to shareholders in the year, and potentially decade, ahead.

Image source: Facebook.

A deep and widening moat

Facebook's massive user base, which now stands at 1.8 billion monthly active users, is a powerful competitive advantage. Even more impressive, 1.2 billion people use Facebook every day. The size of Facebook's network dwarfs that of its competitors, which has made gaining access to its social media platform increasingly important to advertisers around the world.

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What makes Facebook's network even more valuable is the rich data the company collects from its users. Every day, more than a billion people willingly tell Facebook what they "like." This information allows marketers to better target their ads, thereby increasing the return on their advertising investments, and by extension, the amount they're willing to pay Facebook to gain access to its treasure trove of user data.

The more people join and engage with Facebook's network, the more data it collects. The more data it collects, the more valuable Facebook's platform becomes for advertisers. And the more cash Facebook earns, the more it has to invest in new products and services that help to increase user engagement and entice new users to join. It's a classic network effect, and a powerful virtuous cycle that should continue to serve Facebook well for many years to come.

Tremendous growth opportunities

The global advertising market is expected to grow to $590 billion in 2017, says a new report by research and analytics company IHS Markit. Yet despite its massive $370 billion market cap, Facebook still only commands about 5% of that total. The trend is certainly working in Facebook's favor, as more dollars migrate from traditional advertising formats (such as television, print, and radio) to the internet, and particularly social media, where people around the globe are spending an ever increasing amount of their time.

Yet Facebook is not just sitting back, content to let a rising tide lift its boat. The social-media king is investing aggressively in artificial intelligence and virtual reality -- two areas that Facebook believes will help to strengthen its core business while also providing new growth opportunities.

Additionally, Facebook owns an incredible collection of assets that add even more growth potential to its business. Instagram recently surpassed 600 million users, while Messenger and WhatsApp both have more than 1 billion users. All of these platforms hold tremendous promise, and Facebook has barely begun to monetize them.

All told, few businesses give investors as many ways to win as Facebook. Despite its already massive size and scale, the company could have a multi-decade growth runway still ahead. In fact, CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently said that the social network is targeting 5 billion monthly active users by 2030. Should Facebook come anywhere close to that figure, investors who buy shares today should be well rewarded.

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Joe Tenebruso has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.