Half the internet now uses Facebook - no wonder its profits have tripled

The tech giant's first quarter results show an 82% rise in advertising revenues. But analysts are still worried about its value.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 24 Apr 2014

Some comfort to those tech companies whose recent IPOs have gone less than smoothly: remember back in 2012, when Facebook's flotation went disastrously wrong and everyone started muttering about bubbles and it being overvalued and the like? Well, yesterday the tech giant posted results showing profits have tripled to $642m since the first three months of last year, up from $219m. Naysayers, consider yourselves silenced.

The figures read like a fairytale: advertising revenues in the first three months of 2014 jumped 82% to $2.27bn year-on-year, while total revenues rose to $2.5bn.

The company said it now has 1.28 billion monthly active users (that's literally half the internet), up from 1.23 billion in the previous quarter. A billion access the site on their mobile phones - which suggests that its attempt to master smaller screens (helped by the $1bn and $19bn acquisitions of, respectively, then-mobile-only Instagram and current-mobile-only WhatsApp) is working.

There was one fly in the ointment: chief financial officer David Ebersman announced he would step down, to be replaced by ex-Zynga-er David Wehner.

Not surprisingly, Facebook shares rose 3.57% in after hours trading - which makes a rather sour note penned by IG analyst Chris Beauchamp seem all the more mean spirited.

'It has not been the easiest of times to be an investor with a long-term view of this company. Earlier this year they must have been feeling very contented, as the share price hit new post-IPO highs. Now, however, the picture looks less rosy, as we shed all the gains made in February and March,' he wrote, adding that 'the trend of being asked to become friends with your own grandparents [is] a sign that the peak popularity moment had come and gone'.

He's not wrong: Facebook shares hit $72.59 earlier this year, but opened at a less encouraging $63.43 on Wednesday. And price/earnings ratio is just over 90 times - way over the tech industry's average of 37 times (although less than the Nasdaq's 106). It's one to watch out for - although with half the internet now using the site, whether teenagers want to friend their grandparents or not seems rather a minor quibble. User numbers are rising - just not in the original demographic Facebook aimed itself at.

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