Facebook revenue smashes expectations as mobile ad sales surge

Facebook revenue smashes expectations as mobile ad sales surge

Facebook Inc's quarterly revenue rose more than 50 per cent, handily beating Wall Street expectations as its wildly popular mobile app and a push into live video lured new advertisers and encouraged existing ones to boost spending.

The company's shares rose 9.5 per cent in after-hours trading on Wednesday to US$118.39, setting it on track to open at a new high on Thursday, at nearly triple its initial public offering four years ago.

Facebook also announced it will create a new class of non-voting shares in a move aimed at letting Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg give away his wealth without relinquishing control of the social media juggernaut he founded.

The company plans to create a new class of non-voting shares, which would be given as a dividend to existing shareholders. That would allow Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, who wants to give away 99 per cent of his wealth, to sell non-voting stock to fund philanthropy and keep the voting stock that assures his control.

Alphabet Inc passed a similar proposal in 2014 that ensured its founders' control by creating new non-voting shares.

Some 1.65 billion people used Facebook monthly as of March 31, up from 1.44 billion a year earlier. Zuckerberg said users were spending more than 50 minutes per day on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger, a huge amount of time given the millions of apps available to users.

Advertisers are shifting money from television to web and mobile platforms, and Facebook is one of the biggest beneficiaries. It faces fierce competition in the mobile video market, where rivals Snapchat and YouTube also garner billions of video views every day.

Facebook recently expanded its live video product, rolling out several new features and making it more prominent on the app to encourage users to create videos and share them.

The quarterly results showed success attracting advertisers with the move, and the company was able to expand its operating profit margin to 55 per cent from 52 per cent a year earlier.

"The company consistently 'warns' about higher spending, but they consistently manage their spending to deliver earnings upside. They're an impressive company, and they leave very little room for criticism," said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, who called the operating margin a good surprise.

Facebook did not offer details on sales of its Oculus Rift virtual reality headset, but emphasised that it was early days and said that sales would not significantly impact 2016 revenue.

The results come after disappointments for investors from several major Silicon Valley firms.

"After Intel and IBM last week, and then Twitter and Apple yesterday, this is by far the best number I've seen in technology," said Daniel Morgan, senior portfolio manager at Synovus Trust Company which owns about US$40 million (S$54 million) worth of Facebook shares, commenting specifically about Facebook ad revenue.

Facebook has not begun advertising on some of its most popular apps. "They haven't yet turned on the monetisation spigot for Messenger or WhatsApp, so there should be significant headroom still," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research.

The company's net income attributable to common shareholders nearly tripled to US$1.51 billion, or 52 cents per share, in the first quarter from US$509 million, or 18 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned 77 cents per share, beating Wall Street's 62-cent consensus.

Total revenue rose to US$5.38 billion from US$3.54 billion, with ad revenue increasing 56.8 per cent to US$5.20 billion. Mobile ad revenue accounted for about 82 per cent of total ad revenue, compared with about 73 per cent a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected revenue of US$5.26 billion.

If the stock proposal is approved - and Zuckerberg has a majority of voting stock - the company will effectively carry out a 3-for-1 stock split, issuing two shares of non-voting Class C capital stock as a one-time stock dividend for each share of Class A and Class B common stock.

Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced last year that they would give away 99 per cent of their Facebook shares to fund charitable endeavours.

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