After Wednesday's closing bell, the social media giant reported adjusted earnings of $1.41 per share, higher than analysts' estimated $1.31 per share. Revenue came in at $8.81 billion for 2016's final frame, topping Wall Street's projected $8.52 billion in revenue.
Advertising revenue soared 53% year-over-year to $8.63 billion, also exceeding analysts' expectations for $8.31 billion.
Facebook shares, which jumped 2.2% Wednesday, were up an additional 0.6% to $133.99 on Thursday morning, and the stock is up 16.6% year to date. Facebook stock hit a high of $137.25 in after-hours trading on Wednesday, but dropped off after the company's earnings call last night.
On the earnings call, Facebook CFO David Wehner backed Facebook's previous guidance that revenue would "come down meaningfully" in 2017 as a result of decelerating ad load growth. Investors also were skittish about Facebook's higher-than-expected forecast for 47% to 57% operating expense growth in 2017.
Facebook's expenses are expected to grow as the company continues to ramp up its focus on video, which many analysts believe could be a source of long-term revenue growth.
"We appreciate management's willingness to invest for future growth, and most importantly, they have proved capable of transforming long-shots into long-term growth drivers (e.g., Instagram and Messenger)," Jim Cramer wrote Wednesday in a note for members of Action Alerts PLUS, our club for investors, which holds Facebook shares. Click here for a free 14-day AAP trial to read their entire analysis.
Wall Street also remained largely bullish on Facebook stock after the earnings report. Here's what they had to say about the quarter:
Stephen Ju, Credit Suisse (Outperform, price target raised to $170 from $165)
"We expect investor focus to lie with the higher-than-expected operating expense growth guidance ... with the likely delta due to planned incremental investments in video as well as Oculus. We do note that for both video and eventually Oculus, this does come attached to generated revenue, so we continue to believe there is upward bias to estimates and remain buyers of Facebook shares, as we do not view our investment thesis as being impaired in any way."
Lloyd Walmsley, Deutsche Bank (Buy, PT raised to $155 from $150)
"While the company, again, warned that ad revenue growth would decelerate, the company did not specifically call out ad loads (until asked) and sees better targeting and creative driving [click-through rates] and pricing over time. We see growth in video impressions as a percent of total impressions continuing to drive [the cost per thousand impressions] higher as video features such as the Video Tab, Facebook Stories and Facebook Live build engagement."
Ronald Josey, JMP Securities (Market Outperform, $165 PT)
"Based on our view that advertisers continue to allocate greater amounts of spending to the platform, that Instagram remains in its relatively early days of growth, the opportunities around Messenger monetization, and for continued strong margins, we would take advantage of any dislocation in shares."
Scott Devitt, Stifel (Buy, PT raised to $165 from $155)
"Facebook once again outpaced consensus revenue expectations in 4Q16 as both consumer engagement and advertiser demand remained strong despite difficult [year over year] comparisons. ... Management is approaching video monetization carefully, but we believe it could be a more meaningful revenue driver once the company gets past the experimentation stage with new formats like midroll video ads."
Andy Hargreaves, Pacific Crest Securities (Overweight, PT raised to $155 from $150)
"Short-form video strategy maximizes Facebook's competitive advantages. It should allow the company to take advantage of its massive user base and personalization tools to drive consumption in a way that fits with how people use the platform. This should maximize engagement, which should create attractive monetization opportunities for creators and create a flywheel effect of steadily improving content, increasing consumption and growing monetization."
Mark Mahaney, RBC Capital Markets (Outperform, PT raised to $175 from $170)
"FB continues to [benefit] from a surge in advertiser demand, driven by newer ad formats (e.g. video, canvas, DPA), improved targeting tools and increasing evidence that FB generate high [returns on investment] (per our survey work). On bottom line, the EPS beat demonstrates substantial leverage in this biz model."
Brian Wieser, Pivotal Research (Downgraded to Hold from Buy, PT lowered to $135 from $147)
"There are some minor risks to revenue growth, of course, especially as the company recovers from last year's measurement mishaps. This week's statements by the [chief marketing officer] of [Procter & Gamble] (and made previously by agencies as well as other customers) implicitly demanding more independent verification of Facebook data could lead to a slight drag on growth, although this is likely minor given the range of ways in which Facebook can replace any lost revenue."
Samuel Kemp, Piper Jaffray (Overweight, $150 PT)
"We now have confirmed context on the heavy [operating expense] outlook, but the pace of revenue deceleration in 2H'17 will not be clear until Q3'17 is reported. While potentially creating a range-bound period over the near term, we believe investors should own FB for the long-term opportunity in Instagram, messaging platforms WhatsApp and Messenger and the remaining opportunity in core Facebook."
Anthony DiClemente, Nomura (Buy, PT raised to $165 from $155)
"Facebook's 4Q results provided clean upside to our above-consensus forecast, as user growth once again accelerated and ongoing strength in the platform drove better-than-expected engagement and [average revenue per user]; expense growth was slower than forecast, providing further upside to our 4Q operating income estimate. That said, some hiring and expense recognition may have been pushed into 2017, which is set to be an aggressive investment year."
Michael Graham, Canaccord Genuity (Buy, PT raised to $155 from $150)
"We continue to like the multilayered revenue story (users x engagement x ad load x ad pricing + other properties) and believe that our estimate for 41% revenue growth in 2017 (~13 pts of deceleration) is conservative relative to management's semi-cautious outlook commentary. With a still reasonable valuation, strong revenue momentum and the likelihood that revenue growth will absorb heavier spending, we continue to like the stock."
Youssef Squali, Cantor Fitzgerald (Overweight, PT raised to $175 from $170)
"We remain constructive on FB, as we believe that 1) advertiser demand across both Facebook and Instagram has significant headroom still, as the massive video-viewing shifts from TV to online, 2) user growth and engagement remain robust, 3) ad load is still likely to move higher for Instagram and ROW, and 4) Messenger should start showing monetization potential in 2017, with WhatsApp and Oculus providing upside optionality over time."
Shyam Patil, Susquehanna Financial Group (Positive, PT raised to $180 from $160)
"We continue to see Facebook as a significant ad share gainer over time, with core [news feed] and video driving the near-to-intermediate term, and off-network, Messenger, and VR providing the next legs of growth over the intermediate-to-longer term. Our recent checks with some of FB's larger ad agencies make us confident in the company's forward momentum, particularly in video, and we believe estimates should move higher through the year."