Facebook fails to convince investors that it can became an enduring powerhouse

July 27, 2012

Facebook on Thursday released its first earnings report since going public, and although the results met expectations, investors still had some concerns. The Post’s Cecilia Kang and Hayley Tsukayama report :

Even though Facebook’s revenue grew to $1.18 billion, slightly above expectations, investors were alarmed that the company spent more than three times what it had during the same period last year yet expanded its business at a slower pace.

On a conference call, chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and other executives focused on the company’s ongoing struggle to become a mobile advertising giant. Mobile customers grew at more than three times the rate of desktop users, and the company’s future growth in emerging markets will largely come from such users, they said.

The problem is Facebook makes most of its money from display ads viewed on desktop computers or laptops.

“Our vision for platform is bigger than most people perceive,” Zuckerberg said. “I think we’re really much closer to the beginning here than the end in terms of what we can do.”

Executives said they would slowly increase the number of advertisements that appear in users’ news feeds, to gauge how its users feel about the mix.

But analysts said that could draw the ire of Facebook’s 955 million users and questioned whether they would accept more advertisements, particularly on smaller mobile screens.

“I don’t think Facebook gets it,” said Donna Hoffman, a marketing professor at the University of California at Riverside. “They are one of the most reactionary tech companies I have ever seen. They’re not proactive, barely responsive and not in tune with the zeitgeist or needs of their own consumers.”

Facebook’s stock plummeted 11 percent Thursday after its earnings were revealed, and it continued to take a major hit Friday. The Associated Press reports :

Facebook’s stock hit a new low Friday after it reported lukewarm second-quarter results and didn’t give an outlook for the coming months.

The stock fell $2.64, or nearly 10 percent, to $24.21 in midday trading Friday, after earlier trading as low as $22.28.

Facebook Inc.’s initial public offering of stock priced at $38, and its low had been $25.52, hit on June 6. The stock is now about 36 percent below its IPO price.

In the wake of Facebook’s earnings report, GigaOm.com decided to take a look at why it’s not easy being Mark Zuckerberg :

Mobile is still a big question mark

It’s worth noting that Facebook advised analysts during the run-up to its initial public offering that they needed to revise their expectations downwards (something that caused a certain amount of controversy, since that advice was given only to brokerage firms and not to the general public) so in a sense it’s not really surprising that the company managed to meet those revised estimates.

To make matters worse, Facebook reiterated during its earnings call on Thursday some of the bad news that it provided to analysts during the IPO roadshow, including a less-than-positive forecast about its ability to monetize its growing mobile audience.

During his brief comments before the main part of the earnings call began, Zuckerberg said that mobile was one of the key areas that the company needed to focus on. But in the financial part of the call, CFO David Ebersman admitted that the volume of ads that Facebook served in the quarter actually declined in the most recent quarter by 2 percent, because more users accessed the site via a mobile device and the company’s ad program for mobile isn’t fully built out yet.

The bottom line for Mark Zuckerberg is that the stock market has no interest in what you did yesterday, or last year, or how quickly your company grew from a four-man startup in a Harvard dorm room into a globe-spanning colossus. All it cares about is how fast you are growing right now — and even more important, how fast you will be growing in a year or two. If the numbers that you provide don’t exceed those rosy expectations, then you are in a tight spot, and that is where Facebook finds itself today.

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