Facebook earnings preview: Teens, mobile & ad growth in focus
Despite recent studies raising questions about Facebook's longevity, the social giant is on track to report a stellar quarter.
Analysts project revenue will grow 47 percent to $2.33 billion, and earnings per share will grow 56 percent to 27 cents. But what investors will really be looking for are indications of "Facebook Fatigue" as the social network nears its 10th birthday in February, and signs of future profits from mobile and video ads.
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With Facebook shares up about 65 percent over the past 12 months, analysts are starting to ask questions about the company's $133 billion-plus market cap, and look for indications that it'll be able to maintain its growth in the face of growing competition and growing market saturation.
Last quarter's results are a cautionary tale—Facebook blew away expectations with strong mobile growth, earnings and revenue, but a mention during the conference call of weakness among younger U.S. teens sparked concerns and sent the stock down.
Facebook addressed a recent Princeton study positing a comparison between the rise and fall of social networks to contagious diseases with a dismissive and humorous blog. Now we'll see how Facebook addresses the surge of concern. Investors want to hear that teens are not leaving, and that Facebook has a plan to keep them hooked.
JPMorgan's Doug Anmuth is positive, citing the fact that over the past year Facebook's share of total minutes across desktop and smartphones grew to 17.8 percent in December, up from 14.6 percent a year earlier, and Facebook now accounts for 22 percent of mobile ad time in the U.S.
A key metric always under the microscope: average revenue per user. Third-quarter ARPU was $1.72 worldwide, up from $1.60 in the prior quarter and up from $1.29 a year earlier. A year ago average revenue per user grew 19 percent sequentially. It's unlikely to grow as fast this quarter, but that growth is key.
Facebook has been struggling with the fact that its ability to make money overseas has far lagged the U.S.—we'll see how fast it can grow that international revenue to catch up.
Mobile will also be in the spotlight. In the third quarter mobile accounted for 49 percent of Facebook's advertising revenue, and the company reported 507 million mobile daily active users and a 45 percent increase in monthly active users to 874 million.
This quarter that mobile monthly active user number is expected to jump to 925 million or more. Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia projects mobile ad revenue will be up 25 percent from the prior quarter and will represent 52 percent of the company's ad revenue. "The shift from desktop to mobile advertising appears to be happening at a faster pace than was expected even three or six months ago," Bhatia says.
Looking forward, JPMorgan's Anmuth projects Facebook's mobile ads will account for 63 percent of total ad revenue in 2014. Anmuth is bullish about Facebook's mobile ad potential, saying advertiser demand and ad quality should "more than offset" slower increases in Facebook's ad load, which will in turn drive higher click-through rates and ultimately greater ad quantity over time.
Instagram is another hot topic, with the photo- and video-oriented social network starting to roll out ads on Nov. 1. The early results have been positive—Anmuth cites Levi's reaching 7.4 million 18- to 49-year-olds in nine days. The question now—how many users does Instagram have, and will other advertisers getting on board?
Video ads are expected to be a key catalyst for 2014 growth. Facebook has been taking its time rolling them out broadly to make sure they don't turn off users. Cowen analyst John Blackledge forecasts $1 billion in video advertising for the social media network in 2014.
Further, Sterne Agee's Bhatia predicts video ads will be the silver bullet to help Facebook tackle the $200 billion worldwide TV ad market, projecting video ads to comprise as much as 10 percent of Facebook's ad dollars this year.
—By CNBC's Julia Boorstin. Follow her on Twitter: