Facebook beats estimates on advertising boom

SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook Inc. reported sales and profit that beat analysts’ estimates, benefiting as companies spent more to advertise in videos on its main mobile app.

The owner of the world’s largest social network also proposed a new class of stock, subject to shareholder approval, to help chief executive Mark Zuckerberg maintain control and ensure he has the freedom to keep spending on future technology.


First-quarter revenue surged 52 percent to $5.38 billion, beating the $5.27 billion analysts projected. Profit excluding some items was 77 cents per share, the company said Wednesday in a statement, compared with the 63 cents average analyst estimate compiled by Bloomberg.

Facebook has been serving its 1.65 billion users more-immersive videos that play automatically, as well as opening up Instagram, the mobile photo-sharing app, to more advertising. The results show that Zuckerberg has the revenue and profits to invest heavily in innovations like virtual reality and artificial intelligence that aren’t lucrative yet.

With Instagram and video, “they’ve got these two huge tailwinds to their business,” Mark Mahaney, an analyst at RBC Capital Markets, said before the results. “But if you own Facebook stock you’re not buying it now because of what they can do with video ads or Instagram, you’re buying it because of the potential with their long-term bets like virtual reality.”

If approved by investors, the new class of shares mean Zuckerberg can still pursue ambitious projects even if Facebook’s existing businesses falter.

“I’ll be able to keep founder control of Facebook so we can continue to build for the long term,” Zuckerberg said in a statement. “I see more bold moves ahead of us than behind us.”


Facebook’s main competitor, Alphabet Inc., issued a special share class in 2014 that gives founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin a similar mix of company control and freedom to back risky new technologies. While some of Alphabet’s new bets have stumbled, Facebook must keep up to attract talented engineers capable of inventing new products and businesses.

Investors seemed initially supportive of the new share class idea. Facebook stock jumped 9.3 percent to $118 in extended trading, after gaining less than 1 percent to $108.89 at the close in New York. The shares have climbed 4 percent so far this year.

The strong performance of Facebook’s existing and emerging businesses is keeping most investors happy for now. Adding ads to Instagram is expected to drive $1.53 billion in revenue this year, or 15 percent of the company’s ad sales, according to eMarketer. Facebook is expected to take about 18 percent of the $102.5 billion mobile advertising market this year, eMarketer said. The company has also been investing in live video streaming and media content, aiming to make Facebook more of a place to find out what’s going on right now.

The company reported $1.51 billion in first-quarter net income, or 52 cents a share.

Much of Zuckerberg’s attention these days is focused on longer-term initiatives. At a developer conference earlier this month, he laid out a 10-year vision. In the next couple years, he said, Facebook’s messaging products are going to usher in an age of talking to businesses through artificially intelligent bots, replacing the need to call them or download their app. Meanwhile, Facebook will work towards a future where virtual reality is at the center of social interactions, allowing people to hang out with anyone in the world via an Oculus headset and feel a sense of presence.

Longer term, Facebook is working on connecting the rest of the world to the Internet using a mix of radio technology, lasers and drones, expanding the overall base of people who can use Facebook’s services.

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