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Facebook Earnings Signal Apple iPhone 5 Rebirth

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) - On the heels of Facebook's (FB - Get Report)first true earnings beat as a public company, investors and analysts are seeing the social network in a whole new light, pushing shares sharply higher.

After previous earnings failed to impress and Google's (GOOG) recent weaker-than-forecast quarter indicated some in Silicon Valley are struggling to go mobile with earnings, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg spent most of an analyst conference call making the case that the company will succeed in its efforts to monetize the billion-member-plus social network on mobile devices like Apple's (AAPL - Get Report) iPhone 5.

The result is that in the span of just a day, the outlook for Facebook's growth and its shares has been completely rewritten. A steady rise in Facebook's shares put the social network up over 19% in Wednesday trading to $23.23, levels not hit since June.

While the company's weak post-IPO performance and its slowing revenue colored shares for the past six months, believers in the social network now have a new story to follow -- the transformation of Facebook to a powerhouse in targeted ads and mobility.

The biggest concern for Zuckerberg & Co. heading into earnings was whether Facebook could grow revenue as users ditch the network on desktop PC's in favor of mobile devices. The key would be strong growth in mobile revenue and an aggressive retooling of the company's various mobile applications, notably a speed injection to Facebook's Apple iOS app.

In third-quarter earnings, Facebook's mobile performance significantly exceeded expectations, as revenue coming from devices accounted for 14% of overall ad-based earnings.

"While we were cautious on FB's mobile transition and expectations built into valuation in our June initiation report, 3Q results suggest that FB can effectively grow revenues while usage transitions to mobile platforms from PC," wrote Bank of America Merrill Lynch analyst Mike Post, in a Wednesday note to clients, upgrading Facebook's shares to 'Buy.'

The analyst highlighted that Facebook quadrupled the amount of ad revenue it generates from mobile devices in the quarter, which now stands at 20% of total ad revenue.

At 14% of overall ad revenue, mobile earnings came in at nearly double Post's forecast for mobile earnings and helped to drive strong year-over-year and sequential revenue growth.

In the third quarter, Facebook's revenue rose 32% from year-ago levels and a similar amount sequentially, in spite of declining desktop revenue and earnings attributed to the company's relationship with online gaming giant Zynga (ZNGA - Get Report).

For more on the gaming giant, see why Zynga should call the cops on Facebook and why the company cut guidance for the second consecutive quarter.

Overall, Facebook posted adjusted earnings of 12 cents a share on revenue of $1.26 billion, slightly beating Wall Street estimates on the top and bottom line.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected Facebook to earn 11 cents a share on sales of $1.2 billion in the third quarter, and few made big changes to the company's earnings outlook headed into the quarter. On a GAAP basis, Facebook lost 2 cents a share.

Compared with search and display giants Google and Yahoo! (YHOO - Get Report) Bank of America's Post now highlights Facebook as the top mobile stock play in Silicon Valley, all but erasing previous skepticism.

"What is different for Facebook vs Google or Yahoo, in our view, is that the Facebook user experience, ad formats, and ad pricing may actually be better on mobile devices than on the PC," writes the analyst.

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