UPDATED with after-hours stock price: Facebook’s financial results for its tumultuous second quarter slightly undershot Wall Street forecasts for total revenue and monthly active users.
Investors, who have ignored recent scandals to boost shares to an all-time high, turned the other way in after-hours trading. The stock has been hammered, dropping more than 20%, making more than $100 billion in wealth instantly evaporate (at least for the moment).
The social media giant’s quarterly performance in the abstract was strong, with earnings per share hitting $1.74, up from $1.32 in the year-earlier quarter. Total revenue rose 42% to $13.2 billion and the tally of monthly active users came in at 2.23 billion, up 11% from the prior-year period.
Even though nearly one-third of the entire planet uses Facebook, that user number and the revenue figure came in a shade below Wall Street forecasts, prompting the after-hours selloff. A string of scandals involving how the company users customers’ data and how it polices its platform and filters out objectionable content have put it under harsh public scrutiny.
First came Cambridge Analytica, the onetime partner/political consultancy, which later dissolved after admitting to using people’s data without proper disclosures. Then, founder-CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his management team have faced aggressive questions recently about how a content company like InfoWars, which has profited by spreading demonstrably false theories, behaves on the platform.
Analysts sounded notes of concern about the earnings report. Brian Wieser of Pivotal Research, who rates Facebook shares a Sell, said the second quarter proves that the brakes are being pumped. “The big story was around expectations of deceleration in [the second half of 2018],” he wrote in a research note. “As we have written about extensively, the advertising industry – and digital advertising no less – has limits to growth, which we think is the primary factor constraining Facebook’s revenue opportunity. Deceleration such as management guided towards suggests that while the company is still growing at a fast clip, the days of 30%+ growth are numbered.”
Mobile advertising continued to to show gains, representing 91% of total ad sales, up from 87% in the second quarter of 2017.
Zuckerberg has promised a hand-crafted approach, deploying more troops to oversee content. That push, along with advertising, is behind the 47% explosion in the employee ranks between last year’s second quarter and the 2018 period.
“This is a clear inflection point for Zuckerberg & Co.,” wrote Daniel Ives, an analyst at GBH Insights. “Facebook still has some wood to chop ahead both on the regulatory as well as user/advertiser front which must be successfully managed going forward.”