Facebook Shares Skyrocket as Social Giant Hits Mobile Stride

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Rick Wilking / REUTERS

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg walks with his wife Priscilla Chan at the annual Allen and Co. conference at the Sun Valley, Idaho Resort July 11, 2013.

Social networking juggernaut Facebook delivered a summer surprise to investors on Wednesday, with strong earnings results that demonstrated impressive progress in the mobile space. The robust earnings numbers propelled Facebook shares as much as 20% higher after the close of trading. Wall Street’s Facebook buying spree added nearly $10 billion in market value to the Internet giant, in a welcome bit of good news.

Facebook’s mobile efforts continue to pay off. In the most important metric, Facebook said that mobile ad revenue increased by 76% to $656 million compared to the same period last year. Facebook said that 41% of its overall revenue came from mobile devices, a sharp increase from 30% during the previous three months and 23% the quarter before that. Brian Pitz, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research, called Facebook’s results “impressive” and said the numbers were driven by “soaring mobile revenue growth.”

To put that in perspective, Facebook’s mobile revenue as a percentage of total revenue in the first quarter of 2012 was 0% — zero. Last year, the number of daily Facebook users on mobile devices surpassed the number of users who access the site on desktop computers, in an important milestone. Facebook only began to display mobile ads earlier this year.

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“It’s pretty healthy on both the top and bottom line,” R.W. Baird analyst Colin Sebastian told Reuters. “We’re seeing accelerating growth, particularly in mobile. That’s important because it confirms that advertisers are spending more, allocating more budget to Facebook. The ads seem to be working.”

Facebook now boasts an astonishing 1.15 billion users, including 700 million who apparently log on to the site on a daily basis. “We’ve made good progress growing our community, deepening engagement and delivering strong financial results, especially on mobile,” said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. “The work we’ve done to make mobile the best Facebook experience is showing good results and provides us with a solid foundation for the future.”

Facebook is trying to capitalize on the explosive growth of sophisticated smartphones like Apple’s iPhone and Google’s Android devices. As people increasingly access Internet services like Facebook, Google, and Twitter on their mobile devices, the industry’s focus is shifting away from traditional desktop computers. Mobile ad revenue is quickly becoming the most important consumer Internet metric to watch.

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Facebook’s sales increased by 53% to $1.81 billion over the last quarter, well above the average Wall Street expectation of $1.62 billion, according to analysts polled by Reuters. During the same period last year, Facebook pulled in $1.18 in revenue. The social networking giant earned $333 million in net income, reversing a net loss of $157 million, from the same period last year.

“The company is successfully making the transition to mobile and new ad formats are working really well. Facebook’s ad exchange works really well,” Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia told Reuters. “Engagement is fairly strong still, so it doesn’t sound like anyone is really being turned off by these extra ads.”

Facebook is still dealing with the lingering fallout from last year’s controversial IPO, which raised $16 billion for the company. Between trading glitches on the NASDAQ exchange, accusations of “selective disclosure“ against Facebook’s bankers, and an offering level –$38 per share — that appeared way too high, the IPO turned into a major embarrassment. Facebook shares settled at $30.95 Wednesday evening.

On Tuesday, Apple reported impressive earnings that handily beating Wall Street expectations, sending the company’s shares up 5%. On Monday, Netflix reported that its profit quadrupled, suggesting the company is growing at a healthy pace. But last week, tech titans Google and Microsoft delivered lackluster earnings results that failed to hit Wall Street forecasts.