In its fiscal third-quarter earnings call, Facebook warned investors late Wednesday that a step-up in security investments could affect profitability in the near-term, as the company works to beef up its staff and technology in response to Russian meddling on the platform during the 2016 presidential election. Expenses are projected to swell between 45% and 60% in the coming year.
The expense guidance overshadowed an otherwise blowout third quarter, in which Facebook smashed analysts' expectations on the top and bottom lines and reported strong gains in its advertising business, in addition to greater-than-expected increases in mobile active users.
Following the results, several analysts acknowledged that the expense guidance would weigh on the stock in the near-term, but that Facebook's overall business remains solid. Here's what they had to say about the quarter:
Andy Hargreaves, KeyBanc Capital Markets (Overweight, Price Target raised to $220 from $200)
"We recommend buying FB. The company continues to grow user engagement and increase effectiveness for advertisers, which should sustain superb growth for the foreseeable future. Further, we see opportunity for incremental ad growth in the Watch tab, which appears poised for significant investment in 2018."
FBN Securities, Shebly Seyrafi (Outperform, $210 PT)
"We believe that FB is being conservative and could be overreacting to criticism from Congress, but politically this is a good move. We would be aggressive buyers on weakness."
Brian Wieser, Pivotal Research (Sell, PT lowered to $136 from $140)
"Facebook reported a spectacular 3Q17 with outperformance on revenue growth, operating cost management and earnings per share. However, 2018 guidance around operating and investing measures the company is undertaking to improve safety and security, video, AI, VR and connectivity represents a substantial step up...This is substantially above our prior expectations. However, we think the news is both unsurprising and in many ways positive, especially with respect to the company's needed investments in safety and security."
Daniel Ives, GBH Insights (Highly Attractive, PT $210)
"In our opinion, [the investments are] "near term pain for long term gain" as ultimately the company must invest in newer growth initiatives in our opinion to further expand its drivers around ad growth rates, AR, mobile platform expansion, video, consumer engagement, and Instagram/Messenger monetization into 2018 and beyond...While there continues to be evolution around Facebook's ad growth model and monetization strategy, it appears the company is executing extremely well in the field (e.g. engagement, MAU growth, ad growth) and all key metrics look healthy heading into 4Q and 2018."
Stephen Ju, Credit Suisse (Outperform, PT lowered to $230 from $235)
"As we have noted previously, we do not believe investors should have any issues with the company redeploying the capital from what is essentially ad revenue outperformance versus expectations...With most of the OpEx now written into models, any incremental revenue upside that shows up in 2018 should flow through to the bottom line at high margins."
James Cakmak, Monness, Crespi, Hardt (Buy, $210 PT)
"While the focus is on investments and the margins, we believe the main takeaway should be that Facebook has effectively de-risked regulatory concern facing the company. This is a very smart and proactive move costing the company just $1 billion to $1.5 billion, or about 200-250 basis points of margin in 2018, in exchange for political breathing room."
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