Here's what Wall Street is saying about Facebook's strong Q1 earnings

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  • Facebook announced its first-quarter earnings on Wednesday and beat Wall Street’s expectations on revenue growth and monthly active users.
  • However, revenue growth is set to slow this year as advertising spend moves from Facebook’s Newsfeed to Stories.
  • Facebook also expects to be fined a record $US3-5 billion by the Federal Trade Commission after several data-privacy scandals.
  • Most analysts raised their price targets for Mark Zuckerberg‘s company, citing its strong growth potential.
  • Watch Facebook trade live.

Facebook’s first-quarter earnings on Wednesday beat Wall Street’s expectations on revenue growth and monthly active users.

However, Facebook warned revenue growth would slow this year as advertising spend moves from Facebook’s Newsfeed to Stories. It also set aside $US3 billion in anticipation of a record-breaking fine from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) after a string of data-privacy scandals.

Revenue rose 26% to $US15.08 billion ($US14.97 billion expected). Monthly active users rose to 2.38 billion (2.37 billion expected). Earnings per share (GAAP) were $US0.85 ($US1.62 expected), although Facebook said it would have been $US1.89 if it hadn’t set aside funds for the FTC fine. Advertising revenue was $US14.91 billion versus a consensus forecast of $US14.78 billion.

Here’s what Wall Street analysts said about the earnings.


Morgan Stanley

happydancing/Shutterstock

Price target: $US210 (raised from $US195)

“Facebook’s strong start to 2019 – across the board 1Q revenue, free cash flow, EPS, and active user beats – speaks to the strength of its engagement, ad offering, and ability to drive earnings power…even while aggressively investing to improve its platform safety/security, product offerings, and monetisation,” Morgan Stanley analysts wrote.

“Given we believe Stories ad unit pricing is still 20-50% lower than Newsfeed…further improved Stories monetisation could bring a double-barreled benefit to ad revenue growth (i.e. impression growth and pricing/performance improvement) if FB can improve ad efficacy.”

The bank’s analysts also expressed excitement about Facebook’s future products and services.

“We are particularly bullish about the Instagram commerce…as we believe Instagram’s “browsing and inspirational” behaviour is suited to lead to e-commerce transactions and ad monetisation.”


Stifel

Price target: $US175 (raised from $US155)

Analysts at Stifel, a Facebook bear, said the company is “working against a shift in engagement from core Facebook and the Newsfeed to Instagram and Stories.”

They expect a significant rise in operating expenses as Facebook addresses platform health and security issues, resulting in “limited year-on-year EPS growth.”

“The long turnaround and operational uncertainty lead us to prefer other US-based mega caps in our coverage, such as Amazon, Netflix, and Alphabet.”


Keybanc

Price target: $US220 (raised from $US195)

“Despite the extraordinary volume of negative headlines over the last year, engagement across the Facebook platforms continues to grow at what appears to be very healthy rates,” Keybanc’s analysts wrote.

“This appears to be supporting stability in the Facebook news feed; strong growth in the Instagram news feed; and tremendous opportunities for growth in stories formats, commerce, and video.

“We believe this combination of solid engagement and revenue growth potential suggests Facebook can sustain very healthy growth for several years,” they added.

The analysts also said the company “appears to be through the largest period of incremental spend related to health and security issues,” raising the prospect of a return to its historical profit margins in the coming years.


JMP

Facebook

Price target: $US220 (raised from $US195)

The key takeaway for JMP’s analysts was Facebook’s “focus on building a more private ‘living room’ type platform over the next several years” that could “unlock newer opportunities around payments and messaging, while attracting a greater overall user base.”

They highlighted short-term hurdles such as ad-targeting issues and the FTC fine, but argued Facebook and Instagram have “long runways ahead.”

“We believe greater Stories adoption among users and advertisers, commerce opportunities with Checkout on Instagram and Collaborative Ads, and Video, among others, can lead to continued growth going forward.”


Credit Suisse

Price target: $US235 (raised from $US211)

Credit Suisse analysts cheered a “straightforward quarter,” adding that Facebook’s strong performance is “affording management the luxury to de-prioritise monetisation of Messenger and WhatsApp to focus on privacy.”

“Street models are too conservative and underestimate the long-term monetisation potential of other billion-user properties like Messenger and WhatsApp,” they added.


SunTrust Robinson Humphrey

Price target: $US215 (raised from $US210)

SunTrust Robinson Humphrey’s analysts find Facebook stock “compelling” due to its attractive valuation and advertisers and users’ apparent disregard for the negative publicity around he company’s data privacy and regulation. They also highlighted the prospect of higher revenues as engagement with Instagram Stories rises and the platform’s shopping functions improve, as well as the growth potential of WhatsApp and Messenger.

Moreover, the analysts cheered Zuckerberg’s idea of a more privacy-focused Facebook. “Starting on product development now gives Facebook an opportunity to help shape, and maybe lead, the next breed of social platforms.”

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