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Facebook shares in free fall, plunging 21 per cent as weak outlook stuns market

The huge drop will have wiped out US$130 billion in market value, if the slump is confirmed in Thursday’s market opening

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 7:51am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 July, 2018, 9:31am

Facebook shares went into a free fall Wednesday as a stunningly weak financial outlook raised fresh concerns for the social networking giant as it tries to recover from the impact of data protection scandals and investigations.

After-hours trade saw Facebook shares plunge by some 21 per cent, wiping out an estimated US$130 billion in market value if the slump is confirmed at Thursday’s market opening.

The second-quarter report sparked initial selling after it showed revenue and user growth came up short of expectations.

China ‘pulls approval’ for Facebook’s planned US$30 million ‘innovation hub’

Profit was up 31 per cent in the second quarter at US$5.1 billion; revenues rose 42 per cent to US$13.2 billion, slightly below most forecasts.

Selling pressure accelerated when chief financial officer David Wehner warned in a call with analysts of a weaker outlook in the coming quarter.

Wehner said revenue growth “decelerated” in the second quarter and will decline “by high single digit percentages” and added that “we are also giving people who use our services more choices around data privacy which may have an impact on our revenue growth.”

On the call, Jefferies & Co. analyst Brent Thill said that “many investors are having a hard time reconciling that deceleration … It just seems like the magnitude is beyond anything we’ve seen.”

Ross Gerber, an analyst at Gerber Kawasaki, said the latest figures suggest that the tide may be turning for Facebook and other social networks.

“Social Media has peaked,” Gerber said on Twitter. “We told you last qtr and now we’re seeing it.”

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg told the call the tech giant has been investing heavily in “safety, security and privacy” after being rocked by concerns of manipulation of the platform to spread misinformation and the hijacking of user data.

“We’re investing so much in security that it will start to impact our profitability, we’re starting to see that this quarter,” Zuckerberg told a conference call on quarterly results.

But he added that “we run this company for the long term, not for the next quarter.”

Zuckerberg has said he did not expect a meaningful impact from the uproar over data hijacked by political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, but the last quarter’s figures suggested some cooling.

The update showed the key metric of monthly active users rose 11 per cent to 2.23 billion, below most estimates of 2.25 billion, while daily active users grew a weaker-than-expected 11 per cent to 1.47 billion.

Zuckerberg said Facebook lost around one million users in Europe amid the implementation of new EU data protection rules, but noted that many Europeans “want to use context from ads,” suggesting they are opting into allowing data collection for advertising purposes.

Facebook a lot more ‘pessimistic’ since data scandal

Almost all of Facebook’s revenue – US$13 billion of the total US$13.2 billion – came from online advertising, a sector dominated by the California social network along with Silicon Valley rival Google.

Although Facebook shares were in a slump after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke earlier this year, the stock had risen sharply and hit record levels this month.

According to the research firm eMarketer, Facebook is expected to hold an 18 per cent share of the US$273.29 billion worldwide digital ad market, behind Google’s 31 per cent.

According to the research firm, Facebook-owned Instagram is making up for some of the slowdown in growth at the social network and will generate US$8.06 billion in worldwide ad revenue this year.

Separately Wednesday, Facebook general counsel Colin Stretch, who advised the company through a series of probes and investigations into data privacy, said he would be leaving for personal reasons.

“There is never a ‘right time’ for a transition like this, but the team and the company boast incredible talent and will navigate this well,” Stretch said on his Facebook page.

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