Facebook Revs Soar 72% On Mobile Gains

Facebook in the first quarter made a pair of big bets on the future with its $19 billion acquisition of WhatsApp and $2 billion purchase of virtual reality firm Oculus.

For now, though, mobile advertising continues to be the company’s big moneymaker. Ads served on devices made up 59% of Facebook’s ad sales in the first quarter, pushing overall revenue up 72% in the period. That’s up from 63% in the prior quarter.

The social networking giant on Wednesday reported an adjusted profit of $885 million, or 34 cents a share -- compared to $312 million, or 12 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue increased to $2.5 billion from $1.46 billion.

Wall Street analysts, on average, had expected Facebook to report an adjusted profit of 24 cents a share on revenue of $2.36 billion.

"Facebook's business is strong and growing, and this quarter was a great start to 2014," said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in the earnings release. He acknowledged the company had made some long-term bets on the future while continuing to focus on its core business.

The numbers speak for themselves. Facebook’s $2.27 billion in advertising sales surged 82% in the quarter from a year ago -- and from 76% in the fourth quarter. The share of advertising coming from mobile was nearly double the 30% of a year ago, underscoring the social network’s rapid shift from desktop to mobile.

Payments and other fees contributed $237 million, down from $241 million in the previous quarter.

Facebook said monthly active users (MAUs) as of March 31 increased to 1.28 billion -- up 15% from a year ago, just under the 16% growth in the fourth quarter. The number of mobile MAUs continued to grow much faster -- up 34% to 1.01 billion, helping drive the company’s mobile ad business.

Daily active users increased 21% to 802 million. 

Among other milestones, Facebook-owned photo- and video-sharing app Instagram recently surpassed 200 MAUs.

In addition to its eye-watering acquisitions, Facebook in the quarter also formally launched auto-play video ads in the news feed after months of testing. With the format just launched in March, it’s still too soon for the new ad offering to have an impact on the company’s results in the quarter.

But in a research note ahead of earnings, JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth said he expects the recent rollout of advertising on Instagram and the new video ads should help further accelerate sales growth in coming quarters. Facebook is also expected to soon announce its own mobile ad network.

While still well behind Google’s 41%, Facebook accounted for 15.8% market share of all mobile ad dollars spent in the U.S. in 2013, according to eMarketer, up dramatically from 9% in 2012. The research firm estimates that the company’s mobile ad share will grow again in 2014 to 17.7%.

As usual, Facebook did not provide any earnings or revenue forecast itself in reporting first-quarter results. After closing at $61.36 on Wednesday, Facebook’s shares were up more than 3% in after-hours trading shortly after it released its earnings report. 

In addition to its financial results, Facebook  on Wednesday also announced CFO David Ebersman, who joined the company in 2009 and oversaw its rocky IPO in 2012, will be stepping down later this year. He will be succeeded by David Wehner, currently Facebook's, VP, corporate finance and business planning.

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