Despite Obliterating Wall Street Predictions, Facebook Admits Looming Problems

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Associated Press

Facebook blew past analyst expectations when it reported its quarterly earnings this week, showing strong growth in revenue, overall user base and mobile advertising. The social media giant pulled in $2.02 billion in total revenue in its third fiscal quarter, a 60 percent year-over-year increase that easily beat the analyst predictions of $1.91 billion. Earnings reached $425 million, or 17 cents per share, a big increase from the $59 million loss in the same 2012 quarter. Adjusted earnings were $621 million, or 25 cents per share, up from $311 million the same time last year.

Despite its massive size, the social network is continuing to grow. Total number of monthly active users grew to 1.19 billion, or about 17 percent of the global population. Daily users climbed to 728 million, a 25 percent increase year-over-year. Mobile usage also continued to explode. Facebook now has 874 million monthly active users on mobile devices, a 45 percent increase from a year ago. 507 million check Facebook via mobile on a daily basis, and about half of Facebook’s total daily users are mobile only.

The strong results caused Facebook’s stock to an all-time high above $56, though the price eventually settled at $49, leaving no gain on the day.

(MORE: Is Facebook Losing Its Cool? Some Teens Think So)

Facebook has effectively put to rest questions of whether the company could adapt to become a mobile-first social network. A whopping 49 percent of the company’s $1.8 billion in advertising revenue came via mobile, an increase from 41 percent in the second fiscal quarter. When Facebook went public in May of 2012, it was essentially generating no money from mobile ads, and investor doubts about its ability to evolve sent its stock crashing below $20 in the ensuing months. Now mobile is leading the way in revenue growth. “It’s a pretty incredible sign of how Facebook has evolved over the last year,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a conference call with investors.

Having proven that it can adapt to mobile, Facebook’s next challenge will be to increase the value of the ads it sells. Part of the company’s quick revenue growth has come from stuffing more and more ads into users’ news feeds—it’s currently just above one in twenty posts—but chief financial officer David Ebersman says Facebook doesn’t want to increase the frequency of ads any further. Instead the company is trying to crack the nut of brand advertising, a huge market that still mostly remains the purview of television and print media. Earlier this fall Facebook was expected to launch prominent video ads that might fetch as much as $2 million per day from top-name brands, but the initiative was delayed for fear that auto-playing videos might annoy users. Zuckerberg wouldn’t commit to a timetable for when video ads might appear on the site.

Instagram, the Facebook-owned social network, will likely prove a testing ground for big brand ads. The photo-sharing app introduced its first sponsored posts last week with a pilot group of companies and has stressed that it wants the ads to be “creative and engaging.” If the ads succeed in not alienating users, they could be a boon for Facebook. BTIG Research analyst Richard Greenfield predicts that Instagram could generate $400 million in ad revenue in 2014 and $1 billion by 2015.

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“Ads on the web and especially on mobile need to feel more like content that add value to consumers,” Greenfield wrote in a blog post. “Instagram video could actually teach Facebook how to do video advertising on mobile right.”

Other challenges also await Facebook. The company acknowledged that the daily use of Facebook by young teens is declining slightly. This was a big admission, as 2013 has been filled with constant reporting that teens are over Facebook. In July Zuckerberg responded to the claims by saying it’s “simply not true” that teens are losing interest in the social network. Wednesday’s reversal shows that the company could one day be vulnerable to popular upstarts like Snapchat, which may attain of valuation of as much as $4 billion soon, or Twitter, which will be flush with cash after its IPO next week.

For now, though Facebook remains the undisputed king of the social media heavyweights. “Not only were they able to match expectations, but it seems like they blew them out of the water,” says Brian Blau, a research director at Gartner covering technology. “They’re doing really well. There’s a lot of promise.”

2 comments
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