Facebook earnings and user growth miss expectations, but stock still spikes

‘We are facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty,’ company warns as sales beat expectations diminished by coronavirus

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has enacted several corporate measures to minimize the impact of COVID-19, but the virus is wreaking havoc on the company’s lifeblood, advertising spending.


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The advertising bug that bit Alphabet Inc. and Snap Inc. got around to Facebook Inc. on Wednesday, but the reaction was still positive.

Facebook
FB,
+6.16%
,
which gleans nearly all of its revenue through advertising, reported better-than-expected quarterly revenue but missed on earnings. The social-networking giant still managed to double its profit from a year ago, though, and its shares shot up 10% in after-hours trading.

Facebook reported first-quarter earnings of $4.9 billion, or $1.71 a share, compared with $2.43 billion, or 85 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Revenue grew 17% to $17.74 billion from $15.08 billion in the year-ago period. Analysts surveyed by FactSet had estimated on average $1.74 a share in earnings on revenue of $17.33 billion.

Monthly average users improved 10% to 2.6 billion from 2.38 billion a year ago. FactSet analysts, on average, were expecting 2.55 billion.

But the company cautioned its business “has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and, like all companies, we are facing a period of unprecedented uncertainty in our business outlook.”

“Outlook is really uncertain,” Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner told CNBC in an interview. “We have a really cautious outlook on how things are going to develop.” He noted a “pullback” in advertising among small and large businesses on the platform, which led to a decline in the pricing of ads over the last three weeks of the first quarter.

Uncertainty over a wobbly economy prompted Facebook to not provide revenue guidance for the second quarter or full-year 2020. Instead, it offered what it calls a “snapshot” on revenue performance in the second quarter.

“We have seen signs of stability reflected in the first three weeks of April, where advertising revenue has been approximately flat compared to the same period a year ago, down from the 17% year-over-year growth in the first quarter of 2020,” the company said in a statement. “The April trends reflect weakness across all of our user geographies as most of our major countries have had some sort of shelter-in-place guidelines in effect.”

Like other tech companies, Facebook is belt-tightening for the rest of the year. It expects capital expenditures of $14 billion to $16 billion in 2020, down from a previous range of $17 billion to $19 billion.

Facebook in the Age of COVID-19: Facebook is both benefiting and battered by the coronavirus impact

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg warned the economic and health impact of COVID-19 could linger for months during a conference call with analysts late Wednesday. It has also resulted in a recent surge of online communication among Facebook members. FaceTime and video group calling, for example, have skyrocketed 1,000% over the past month, he said.

Google parent Alphabet
GOOGL,
+8.89%

GOOG,
+8.73%

and Snap
SNAP,
+8.65%

both reported downturns in ad revenue in their quarterly reports this month. Both companies also saw their shares jump in response to the reports.

See also: Alphabet earnings hit by ‘significant slowdown’ in ad sales, but revenue boosts stock

Things could get worse, analysts caution. “The effects of the pandemic didn’t hit most of the world until mid-March, and that was reflected in Facebook’s earnings report,” eMarketer analyst Debra Aho Williamson said. “But the fact that revenue was flat in the first three weeks of April indicates that Q2 will be a much more challenging quarter than Q1 was.”

Facebook has taken several measures to soften the blow of COVID-19. It has barred gatherings of 50 or more employees through June 2021, and it is critically eyeing travel. Last week, it launched Messenger Rooms, a video chat meeting service for internal use and as a likely alternative to Zoom Video Communications Inc.
ZM,
-6.53%

and Microsoft Corp.’s
MSFT,
+4.48%

Teams. Earlier, Google said it would make Meet, its videoconferencing service for businesses, free to anyone.

See also: Facebook is both benefiting and battered by the coronavirus impact

“With Facebook’s video announcement last Friday, we believe the platform is well-positioned to deliver continued engagement growth as its digital living room strategy rolls out more broadly,” JMP Securities analyst Ron Josey said in an April 27 note that maintained an outperform rating and $215 price target.

Facebook stock is up 0.6% in the past 12 months, while the S&P 500 index
SPX,
+2.65%

has improved 0.5%.

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