How the election helped Facebook's earnings

Helfstein: Controversial election helped drive FB revenue

Facebook engagement jumped this past quarter as more people turned to social media to discuss the polarizing U.S. election, said Oppenheimer analyst Jason Helfstein, who cited third-party data.

"While there wasn't direct revenue from the presidential electoral spending, we think all the controversy about the election caused a massive increase in time spent on the platform and they turned around and sold that time to other advertisers," he said.

The company reported earnings per share of $1.41 and revenue of $8.81 billion — handily beating analyst expectations — and grew ad revenue 53 percent in the December quarter.

Facebook jumped on the opportunity to serve users more ads, though the company raised ad pricing just 3 percent, he noted.

"Which is why we're still bullish, because ultimately this is an auction model and it means that demand is actually behind the supply," said Helfstein.

Whether the company can evolve to use more third-party data measurements and ad verification to show its ads work remains an unanswered question, he said. On the earnings conference call, Facebook CFO Sheryl Sandberg addressed this.

"Sheryl last night talked about — they need to do a better job proving to advertisers they saw the ad, they bought the products," said Helfstein. "They're still very early in this measurement cycle."

Better measurement tools are likely to lure more ad dollars from Madison Avenue, he said. Helfstein has a $144 price target on the stock and is among the 89 percent of analysts covering the stock who recommend buying it.