Facebook's Mobile Move

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Facebook ( FB) reports fourth-quarter results after Wednesday's closing bell, and all eyes will be on whether the company can continue the trend of making money from mobile or if that was just a one-time event.

Last quarter, Facebook surprised Wall Street analysts and journalists, as it generated significant revenue from its mobile efforts, which was a big question mark going into the quarter.

Since those results in late October, Facebook shares have been on a tear, gaining nearly 60%. They have drastically outperformed the Nasdaq, which is up just 4.53% in the same time frame.

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Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expect the social networking giant to earn 15 cents a share on sales of $1.53 billion in the fourth quarter. Last quarter, Facebook posted adjusted earnings of 12 cents a share on revenue of $1.26 billion.

Revenue coming from mobile devices accounted for 14% of Facebook's advertising revenue, a strong sign that bodes well for the future, said Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju in a note.

Ju raised estimates to reflect "incremental refinements to credit the company with its burgeoning mobile monetization." He believes that the pick-up in mobile revenue is not coming at the expense of desktop revenue, largely due to Facebook Exchange, its ad platform. Ju rated Facebook "neutral" with a $31 price target.

Mobile ad monetization may be starting to swing upward for the industry as a whole, as Google ( GOOG) showed in its results earlier this month. If that is indeed the case, there could be a huge upside surprise in mobile revenue, said J.P. Morgan analyst Doug Anmuth.

"We believe Facebook continued to ramp Mobile News Feed inventory in 4Q on a global basis and our checks suggest positive advertiser feedback for News Feed ads across click-through rates (CTRs) and ROI," Anmuth mentioned in a note. He believes that revenue from the mobile news feed compared to desktop news feed rose to 5-1 in the fourth quarter, up from 3-1 in the third quarter, as Facebook pushes better quality ads towards mobile.

Stepping away from advertising, Facebook has shown other signs of incremental revenue, as it continues to meet the demands of shareholders who are asking for more growth as a public company.

Facebook introduced Gifts in the quarter, allowing users to send gifts to other users for special occasions, or just because. Anmuth believes that Gifts will not have a meaningful impact in the near term, as Gifts is only in the U.S. market, but could be huge over time.

"If 10% of U.S. users purchased $20 gifts 4 times per year in 2013, we estimate it would equal nearly $100M of revenue for Facebook," Anmuth wrote.

Payments-related revenue is the other major source of revenue outside of advertising, with Facebook collecting a percentage of gaming and other payment-related revenue done on its Web site. The majority of Facebook's Payments revenue come from Zynga ( ZNGA), but the relationship between the two companies has weakened over time. In November, the two companies amended their agreement so that Zynga will no longer have to display Facebook ads or use Facebook payments on its own Zynga.com properties. Under the amended deal, Facebook can also develop its own games.

With Zynga performing so poorly, Raymond James analyst Aaron Kessler isn't expecting much from Payments revenue this quarter. "We remain more cautious on Payments and other revenues over the near term given the slower outlook for gaming revenue growth. As such, we are modeling essentially flat growth in 2013 for Payments and Other revenues," Kessler wrote in a report. He rates Facebook "outperform" with a $38 price target.

There's been increased optimism surrounding Facebook since the last earnings report, as CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team seem to have given Wall Street what they want. We'll find out after the close Wednesday whether the trend continues.

Interested in more on Facebook? See TheStreet Ratings' report card for this stock.

-- Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York

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