Facebook earnings likely to be strong, analysts say, despite worries of teen flight


The Facebook Inc. logo is displayed on an Apple Inc. iPad Air in this arranged photograph in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Facebook Inc. is expected to release earnings data on Jan. 29. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Facebook turns 10 years old next week, a major milestone for any company. But the balloons can’t come out quite yet. Ahead of whatever festivities the company has planned, it first must report earnings.

The firm is due to report its financial health to investors after the closing bell Wednesday, and analysts will be keeping a keen eye on the social network’s advertising revenue — paying particular attention to mobile revenue, which is expected to grow significantly.

In a note to investors on Monday, Sterne Agee analyst Arvind Bhatia repeated his “buy” rating for Facebook and said that he expects mobile advertising revenue to hit $1.1 billion — up 25 percent from last quarter and over 260 percent from last year.

“The secular shift from off-line to on-line advertising continues to be a powerful trend for companies” such as Facebook, Bhatia wrote. Advertisers appear to be shifting to the smaller screen more quickly than anticipated, he said, citing an eMarketer report that forecasts $15 billion in mobile advertising revenue in 2014.

Bhatia estimates that Facebook will post $2.34 billion in revenue, slightly lower than consensus figures that he cites at $2.35 billion — a jump of over 45 percent over the same period last year.

The company’s stock has climbed 11 percent in the past three months. Yet while analysts are upbeat about Facebook’s report, investors may be wary about lingering questions over whether the company has staying power with teens.

Shares Wednesday opened at $54.61 and were down about 2 percent in morning trading.

Since the company confirmed that it was logging some losses from the site’s young demographic — it never provided official numbers — there have been a handful of academic studies that seem to back anecdotal evidence that teens aren’t that into Facebook anymore. The Pew Center’s Internet and American Life Project said in December that 84 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds were on the site — down two percentage points from the previous year. A British ethnographic study also found that some English teens were leaving the site in favor of messaging apps such as SnapChat.

Facebook actually fired back at a Princeton study that predicted that the social network would lose 80 percent of its users between 2015 and 2017. The study was based in part on data from Google Trends that look at the number of searches for the term “Facebook.”

In a company blog post last week titled “Debunking Princeton,” Facebook pointed out that by analyzing search trends and the number of times Princeton showed up in “scholarly articles of great scholarliness,” it comes to the conclusion that the Ivy League institution will have no students by 2018.

And it applied the same methods, tongue-in-cheek to another search query — for “air.”

“While we are concerned for Princeton University, we are even more concerned about the fate of the planet — Google Trends for ‘air’ have also been declining steadily, and our projections show that by the year 2060 there will be no air left,” Facebook employees Mike Develin, Lada Adamic and Sean Taylor wrote.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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