January 30, 2013

Facebook's Fourth Quarter Earnings Emerge: Gains, But Losses


Today, Facebook came out with its fourth quarter earnings report, and despite some very impressive numbers on one side of the continuum, there were less than impressive numbers on the other. Oddly enough, though Facebook recorded some significant successes in the previous quarter, it wasn't going to prove enough to keep Wall Street satisfied.

The numbers looked surprisingly good for Facebook on most every front. Earnings per share beat estimates by fully two cents--$0.17 against the consensus call of $0.15--and revenue did likewise, beating the consensus estimate of $1.53 billion with the score of $1.56 billion. The patterns Facebook was looking to establish seemed to keep on nicely, with revenue growing 40 percent year to year over 32.8 percent in the previous quarter's year to year comparison. Operating profit margin also saw some significant expansion as well.

In perhaps the biggest news, Facebook's daily active users reached fully 618 million, on average, or a little under 10 percent of the planet. That represents an increase of 28 percent over the same time the previous year. Monthly active users, meanwhile, swelled to about one in seven people on the planet, or 1.06 billion total, accounting for a 25 percent increase over the same time the previous year. Comprising these numbers was a trend that had been in the works for some time, but reached its zenith with this quarter, as mobile daily active users outnumbered Web daily active users for the first time.

But despite all of this, despite a great showing in terms of earnings, in terms of active users both daily and monthly, Facebook's stock price was virtually the only low point in the entire equation, finishing down fully five percent on the day. After hours trading, of course, will likely change that, but the reports say the stock took it on the chin despite the surprisingly sound numbers.

With a mobile ad network on the rise, and users clearly migrating to mobile, it's clear that mobile is going to be an important part of Facebook's near-term strategy. Facebook is both making changes and has already made changes to adjust performance in terms of mobile; even CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on the earnings conference call that Facebook was now a mobile company.

What may have put investors off in the short term, despite some terrific numbers, is that many of Facebook's successes are, comparatively, new. As Zuckerberg detailed in the call, Facebook began the year with no mobile advertising presence. But by the end of the year, mobile advertising represented 23 percent of the company's take. While Zuckerberg had clear plans for expanding that outward, upping the different types of media and the like, what's missing here is long-term data. That's not really Facebook's fault--many of these ventures only just started--but it's still likely weighing on at least some investors' minds.

But what's clear is that Facebook has several plans for expansion. They're clear, they're actionable, and overall they look sound. Facebook wants improvements in mobile expansion, where it's already seeing results, it has plans to better focus on facilitating marketing--which is a big reason many of those daily users are in in the first place--and it's out to make the advertising experience for all users as big a value-generator as possible. It's not hard to think that investors are being a bit hasty in a rush to judgment on Facebook, because the company has some very sound plans in its favor.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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