Facebook Inc. (FB) - Get Report shares steadied in pre-market trading Wednesday as investors prepped for perhaps the most important quarterly earnings report for the social media group since it went public nearly six years ago.
Mired in a scandal over the misuse of 87 million users' data, as well as the significant changes to its newsfeed following accusations it was being used to spread so-called fake news and disinformation during various election campaigns, Facebook faces not only the threat of major regulatory changes that could impact its business model but also the potential that users and advertizers begin to slowly exit the platform for other social media alternatives.
That said, Facebook's current business looks robust, and the group has insisted that the Cambridge Analytical scandal hasn't changed its ability to generate an extraordinary amount of profit from its users and advertizers.
Action Alerts PLUS holding Facebook shares were marked 0.15% higher in pre-market trading, indicating an opening bell price of $160.00 each, a move that would take its year-to-date decline to around 9%. The stock was able to reverse its earlier pre-market decline after a stronger-than-expected first quarter earnings release from social media rival Twitter Inc. (TWTR) - Get Report , which saw ad revenue rise 21% to $575 million and monthly active users rose 3% to 336 million.
However, much of Facebook's stock decline can be attributed to the mid-March revelation that Cambridge Analytical, a political consultancy that worked on behalf of the election campaign of President Donald Trump, gained access to millions of Facebook users' data via an app designed by Cambridge University researcher Aleksandr Kogan.
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Facebook is expected to earn $1.35 per share for the first three months of the year, according to the published consensus on FactSet, a 30% increase from the same period last year and the highest on record. Revenues are expected to rise 38% to $12.9 billion, another all-time best, with analysts looking for guidance that would point to a topline that passes $13 billion in the three months ending in June and earnings of $1.63 per share. Those numbers are expected to be buttressed by an astonishing gross margin of 84.6%.
Investors looking for clues as to the impact of the Cambridge Analytical scandal -- and CEO Mark Zuckerberg's attempt to thwart a regulatory backslash with his straight-laced testimony to lawmakers on Capitol Hill earlier this month -- would do well to examine whether uses are migrating away from the Facebook platform as a result.
Newsfeed changes, announced late last year, will likely mean the average revenue per user (ARPU) falls around 13.4% from the previous quarter to $5.35 as people spend less time scrolling through their updates, according to the FactSet consensus, but monthly active users are expected to rise more than 38% from the three months ending in December to 2.96 billion.
Not everyone is convinced, however, that Facebook has faith in the Palo Alto, Calif.-based group's ability to add more users -- and squeeze more profits from them -- in the months and years ahead.
Jeffrey Gundlach, the Chief Investment Officer of DoubleLine Capital, told investors at the Sohn Conference in New York earlier this week that he's short the stock, telling the audience that: "we hear the good things about Facebook, which is 2.2 billion users. I hear 2.2 billion compliance breaches."