Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new feel-good statistic on a conference call with financial analysts on Wednesday: some 2.5 billion people — a third of the world's population — now use at least one of Facebook's products each month.
But that staggering statistic wasn't enough to distract investors from the bad news the company had to share — it expects significantly decreased revenue growth rates and operating margins in the years ahead.
The proof was in Facebook's stock, which during the call was down as much 24% from its price at the close of regular trading. In fact, the call with Zuckerberg and his colleagues only made things worse for Facebook, in terms of its share price.
An hour before the call started, Facebook announced disappointing second quarter financial results. The company missed Wall Street's expectations on both revenues and its number of daily and monthly active users.
Its stock fell more than 8% on that news. But it stayed relatively steady after that, at least until the call started and David Wehner, Facebook's chief financial officer, started discussing the company's financial outlook. Wehner warned that Facebook expected its revenue growth to slow from the 42% pace it posted in the second quarter and its operating margins to fall from 44% in the period.
"Looking beyond 2018, we anticipate that total expense growth will exceed revenue growth in 2019," he said. "Over the next several years, we would anticipate that our operating margins will trend towards the mid-thirties on a percentage basis."
During the call, Facebook's stock dropped precipitously. Within minutes it was down 15%, then 18%, then more than 24%. At the stock's lowest point, more than $148 billion of the company's value — significantly more than the entire market cap of IBM ($134 billion) — had been wiped out. That is 42% of South Africa's 2017 GDP.
Facebook's shares rebounded later, but at the time of this writing, they still remained deep in the red, at a little over 20% down.
Three key factors are driving Facebook's expected revenue growth decline, Wehner said. First, Facebook is battling currency headwinds. Its overseas revenue got a boost in dollar terms as the dollar appreciated against other currencies last year. But the dollar's decline this year will reduce the dollar value of Facebook's foreign revenue.
Second, the company is placing more emphasis on Stories, the packages of posts and photos users can share with their friends that generally disappear after 24 hours. The company doesn't yet make as much money from Stories as from its news feed and other features on its site.
And then there's an increased focus on privacy and security, which Zuckerberg had previously warned could harm the company's profitability. New options that Facebook is offering users to opt out of certain data collection — inspired in part by a new privacy law in Europe — could lead to less advertising revenue.
As analysts pounded Facebook executives on the call about the company's expected deterioration in its financial results, its stock continued to sink. Towards the end of the call, a Jeffries analyst seemed astonished at the scale of the growth slowdown, saying it "seems the magnitude is beyond anything we've seen."
Wehner warned analysts not to expect the company's financial results to get better anytime soon.
The company will likely be posting sub-par operating margins for "several years ... more than two, less than many," he said.
It's a staggering drop-off for Facebook, and flies in the face of Wall Street's expectations. Earlier in the day, its stock had hit a new all-time-high of more than $218 a share. A few short hours later, that already seems like a distant memory.
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