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Jul 30, 2020

Facebook's second-quarter sales top estimates as ads rebound

Strength in Facebook ad revenue shows advertisers will continue to go where eyeballs are: Bokeh's Forrest

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Facebook Inc. said second-quarter sales topped analysts’ highest estimates, showing signs of recovery from the pandemic’s disruption to its digital-advertising business. The social media company’s shares surged in late trading.

Revenue jumped 11 per cent to US$18.7 billion, compared with the US$17.3-billion average analyst projection. Facebook’s main social network logged 2.7 billion monthly active users in the period, according to a statement Thursday, compared with the 2.63 billion average estimate of analysts polled by Bloomberg.

Even as economic growth sputters, Facebook’s results show advertisers were willing to boost budgets in the second quarter after holding off earlier in the year. Facebook’s profit was US$5.18 billion, or US$1.80 a share, beating the US$1.39 per-share average estimate. In the current quarter, Facebook is confronting an advertiser boycott, after civil rights leaders called on major brands to protest the company’s handling of harmful content and misinformation. More than 1,000 advertisers, from Verizon Communications Inc. to Coca-Cola Co., pulled promotions from Facebook starting in July.

Still, because of Facebook’s vast reach and the surge in usage during the pandemic lockdown, its results have been able to withstand the broader economic slowdown better than many other large companies. Facebook said sales in the first three weeks of July were in line with the second quarter’s growth rate.

Facebook’s problems are “short-term and not structural, as FB has a good track record of managing advertiser concerns,” Mizuho Securities analyst James Lee wrote in a note to investors before the report.

Facebook shares increased about eight per cent in extended trading following the report, after closing at US$234.50. The stock has gained 14 per cent so far this year.

The company’s earnings report was delayed from Wednesday, the day of an antitrust subcommittee hearing in U.S. House, where representatives for hours interrogated Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, alongside other tech leaders. Armed with documents collected during the inquiry, the lawmakers asked Zuckerberg about Facebook’s acquisitions of mobile apps WhatsApp and Instagram, which Zuckerberg admitted were purchased in part to remove competition.

Zuckerberg also told the Congressional panel that he was listening to the advertiser boycott, but was “not going to set our content policies because of advertisers. I believe that that would be the wrong thing to do.” Most of Facebook’s advertising revenue comes from small and medium-sized businesses that have few other options to reach customers.