Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) released its fourth quarter and full year 2014 earnings results on January 28th. The report verified what CEO Mark Zuckerberg had forecasted: high advertising revenue but rising costs due to long term investments.
The social media giant posted $3.85 billion in revenue, beating analyst estimates of $3.78 billion and marking a 49% year-over-year increase. Mobile advertising saw impressive growth, comprising 69% of total advertising revenue; a 53% increase from the same quarter of last year. Earnings per share on a diluted GAAP basis were $0.25 for the quarter, marking a 25% year-over-year increase but falling short of analysts’ estimates by 8-cents.
However, Facebook posted a GAAP operating margin of 29%, down from the 44% posted in the same quarter of last year. Facebook’s executive team highlighted these investments in the last quarterly report, noting that long term investments in Atlas, LiveRail, ad tech, and Audience Network were strategic and integral to Facebook’s growth even though the payoffs will take time.
Instagram has yet to earn significant revenue for Facebook, but the photo-sharing platform currently reaches over 300 million users a month, more than 70% of which are outside the United States. The platform has only rolled out advertising on the Australian and Canadian platforms, but Facebook is looking forward to expand the creative forms of advertising Instagram inspires.
The conference call after the earnings release highlighted the altruistic roots and ambitions of Facebook. During the call, an analyst asked Zuckerberg why investors should be concerned about Facebook’s efforts and investments to connect African countries to the Internet. Zuckerberg responded, “It matters to the kind of investors we want to have.” Many have coined Zuckerberg’s response as his “Tim Cook moment,” as he reminded investors of Facebook’s mission: to make the world more open and connected.
According to SmarterAnalyst, Youssef Squali of Cantor Fitzgerald maintained a Buy rating on Facebook on January 29thand raised his price target from $80 to $90. Squali reasoned that Facebook remains a “top pick” due to “1) its growing position as the largest/most-engaged Internet platform, offering personalized marketing at scale, 2) the ongoing shift of ad dollars to mobile/social, and 3) untapped monetization potential for Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp (at 300M, 500M and 700M MAUs, respectively and growing), all at a compelling valuation.”
Youssef Squali has rated Facebook 23 times since September 2012, earning a 90% success rate recommending the stock and a +58.6% average return per FB recommendation. Overall, Squali has a 73% success rate recommending stocks and a +27.5% average return per recommendation.
Separately on January 29th, analyst Colin Sebastian of Robert W. Baird reiterated an Outperform rating on FB and raised his price target from $80 to $93. Sebastian noted the strong quarter results and commented, “Management also narrowed 2015 Opex guidance, which still reflects ~$2B in incremental spend. We believe these investments in headcount, product development (Atlas/WhatsApp/Oculus), and online infrastructure to be both prudent and consistent with the company’s ‘develop-first, monetize-second’ corporate ethos.”
Colin Sebastian has rated Facebook 11 times since June 2012, earning a 78% success rate recommending the stock and a +26.4% average return per FB recommendation. Overall, Sebastian has a 62% success rate recommending stocks and a +12.2% average return per recommendation.