Why Facebook Earnings Just Are Not Important

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The corporate earnings report from Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ: FB) has shares trading higher the day after the report. Many analysts have keyed in discussing many metrics, but the reality is that Facebook is just not anywhere close to being an earnings story. This is a story of pioneering mobile advertising and controlling the change of how society digests its media and information.

There are many risks to Facebook that have to be considered. Earnings of 2013 are just not among them. Here were some of the metrics to consider from the last quarter:

  • Daily active users rose by 26% to 665 million on average for March 2013.
  • Monthly active users were up 23% to 1.11 billion as of March 31, 2013.
  • Mobile monthly active users were up 54% to 751 million.
  • Ad revenue was $1.25 billion and mobile accounted for 30% of that revenue.
  • Earnings of $0.12 per share fell short of the $0.13 per share expected, but sales of $1.46 billion narrowly topped expectations of $1.44 billion.
  • Non-GAAP costs and expenses were up 56% from a year ago at $895 million in the first quarter.
  • Non-GAAP operating margin was 39% for the first quarter of 2013, versus 46% a year ago.
  • Instagram reached 100 million monthly active users.

So, why don’t earnings really matter for now? Facebook is getting its Home launch tweaked, and realistically we would say that this is nowhere close to even being in the second inning of its launch. The effort is going to be difficult to monetize, but the hyper-use that may come from it can lead to all sorts of new ad models that the company is only thinking of now.

Last night it was easy for pundits to say that mobile use was more than 60% of all Facebooking now, but only 30% of sales. Mobile does cannibalize desktop ad revenue, and you cannot find anyone to disagree there. If you have a content business, you know this all too well. But the growth is happening here, and it is only going to continue. Facebook could get much more aggressive if it wants to because the company does not charge any of its users for general mobile and desktop use.

Facebook has always said that it will be free. That might not be the case forever, at least not as far as different tiered plans could be considered. Imagine if Facebook just came out with a $1.00 per month plan that had certain bells and whistles. Zuckerberg does not want to do that, but what if that becomes the way that Facebook does not have to worry about the mobile degradation of desktop revenues.

This will not sound good to those of us who get annoyed by Facebook users getting addicted to the point that they are Facebooking during dinner, movies and conversations. Mark Zuckerberg thinks that mobile engagement is only a fraction of what it can be.

Another reason that Facebook’s earnings do not matter right now is that LinkedIn Corp. (NYSE: LNKD) has such an astronomical valuation compared to Facebook that it makes Facebook stock actually look cheap. Facebook is worth more than $65 billion, versus more than $21 billion for LinkedIn. The difference is that LinkedIn’s annual sales for 2013 are projected to be about $1.5 billion, while Facebook generated close to that in just the first quarter alone. LinkedIn trades at close to 150 times expected 2013 earnings and 95 times the expected 2014 earnings. Facebook’s earnings multiple, even after the earnings gain of more than 3%, is 50 times expected 2013 earnings and 36 times the expected 2014 earnings estimate.

Does this mean that you should run out and instantly buy up Facebook stock? No, but you need to get past all the noise around a single quarterly earnings report. Mark Zuckerberg has survived a disaster and embarrassment of an IPO that really hurt thousands upon thousands of investors. He is now showing that mobile usage will be an earner, and that is the real reason that Facebook’s earnings do not matter. If Zuckerberg wants to try something new, he can always change directions if it is not working. As far as spending and the pressure on earnings, Zuckerberg can simply tell the investment community, “Look, I invested to pressure this quarter and next quarter’s earnings by a couple cents per share to double earnings in 2016 or 2017.”

Facebook is the true newcomer to the lot for the migration to mobile, and the company has far less financial demands placed on it over the likes of Google Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (NASDAQ: MSFT). The proof is in the reaction after missing on the actual earnings. Facebook’s stock is up 3.7% at $28.45 on what is almost 60 million shares at mid-day. If earnings really mattered here, today you would see Facebook in negative territory rather than being up.

Again, this is not a recommendation to just go out and buy Facebook shares. You just do not need to bother yourself watching each earnings metric, other than sales growth and mobile revenue growth, for what very well may be the rest of this year. The actual earnings per share will matter, but maybe not until well into 2014.

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