Facebook (FB) shares were rising nearly 2% to $190.28 after hours as the company beat on earnings and revenues estimates for the fourth quarter. In a note accompanying the report, CEO Mark Zuckerberg noted that "2017 was a strong year for Facebook, but it was also a hard one" and said the company wanted to focus on making its network good for "people's well-being and for society" by prioritizing connections between people rather over passive consumption of content.
Here are the biggest takeaways from the quarterly report:
- Though Facebook officially missed consensus EPS estimates, that was only due to a $0.77 one-time tax hit caused by the recent tax reform bill. Excluding that, EPS was $2.21, above a $1.94 consensus.
- The fact that monthly average users (MAUs) and daily average users (DAUs) fell slightly short of consensus estimates after many quarters of beating them is clearly worrying investors. Particularly since the numbers were accompanied by remarks from Mark Zuckerberg indicating that recent algorithm changes meant to show less viral video content reduced time spent by 50 million hours per day. With more changes planned for 2018, investors are on edge about what DAUs, MAUs and time spent will look like during the next couple of quarters.
- Also likely making investors nervous: North American DAUs fell by 1 million sequentially to 184 million, albeit while growing by 4 million annually. North America still accounts for nearly half of Facebook's revenue, making these DAUs much more lucrative on average than ones overseas.
- On the bright side, Facebook's ad business continued executing beautifully. Q4 ad revenue growth of 48% nearly matched Q3's 49% and easily beat consensus. For now, higher ad prices -- driven in part by the quality of Facebook's ad products and targeting/measurement tools -- and Instagram's growth are clearly offsetting lower news feed ad load growth and the recent pressures on time spent.
- Spending was aggressive, but perhaps a little less so than expected. GAAP cost and expense growth slowed slightly to 32% (below revenue growth of 47%) from Q3's 34%, and full-year capex of $6.73 billion fell short of guidance of $7 billion. But it's worth keeping in mind that Facebook guided in November for 45% to 60% 2018 cost/expense growth, and for capex to roughly double from 2017 levels.
- In spite of heavy capex, free cash flow grew an impressive 50% last year to $17.5B, leaving Facebook with $41.7B in cash at year's end. $12.9B of that total was overseas at the end of Q3, and could soon be repatriated.
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