Earnings Outlook: Facebook earnings growth won’t stop: 70% profit jump expected

Facebook Inc. is expected to report a 70% increase in earnings thanks to strong sales and advertising growth when it reports third-quarter earnings after the market closes Wednesday.

Analysts consider Facebook FB, -0.23%  to be eons ahead of the competition, both in its user base and Rolodex of advertisers. Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter said Facebook has a “virtually insurmountable competitive advantage,” with more than 1.7 billion monthly active users and more than 3 million advertisers.

Momentum in ad sales should come particularly from mobile ads, thanks to increased engagement. Facebook could face tough questions about misstated video metrics and an admitted “slow start” for sales of its Oculus Rift virtual-reality hardware, but big gains in profit and revenue are expected to drown out any doubts.

MKM Partners analyst Rob Sanderson said there is “little controversy” regarding the company’s fundamentals, adding that he expects “another strong result.”

Facebook: With Great Scale Comes Great Responsibility

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Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox talk to WSJ’s Christina Passariello at the WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, Calif.

Here’s what to expect:

Earnings: Sell-side analysts surveyed by FactSet expect Facebook to report profit of 97 cents a share, compared with 57 cents a share in the year-earlier period. Contributors to Estimize, a software platform that uses crowdsourcing from hedge fund executives, brokerages and buy-side analysts to predict earnings, expect Facebook to report $1.03 a share.

The company has a history of beating the FactSet consensus, topping it in every quarter but one (March 2013) since its 2012 IPO. In the past three quarters, Facebook topped analysts’ expectations by 19%, 24% and 17%.

Revenue: The company is expected to report revenue of $6.9 billion, compared with $4.5 billion in the year-earlier period, according to FactSet’s analyst survey. Estimize contributors estimate revenue of $7 billion. Facebook surpassed the FactSet consensus by 7% last quarter and has topped Wall Street’s revenue estimates in all but one fiscal quarter since its market debut.

Also Read: Twitter to cut 9% of its workforce

Stock reaction: Shares of Facebook have outperformed the S&P 500 SPX, -0.01%  both in the past three months and year. The stock has risen more than 6% in the three months since its last earnings report, compared with a decline of 2% for the index.Shares are up nearly 30% from a year ago, compared with a 2.5% increase for the S&P 500. The Dow Jones Industrial Average DJIA, -0.10%  , meanwhile, is down 1.4% in the past three months and up 3% in the past year.

The average rating on Facebook’s stock is the equivalent to buy, while the average price target among a survey of roughly 40 analysts on FactSet is $153.81.

“Facebook has had a string of very solid quarters and associated positive stock moves, and we are consistently asking ourselves when the beat and raise music might stop,” Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Graham wrote. “That said, we continue to find the company’s multifaceted growth appealing.”

What to watch for: Facebook has been on a rip in terms of earnings growth in the past two years and analysts aren’t expecting any major changes in the foreseeable future.

The company continues to monetize Instagram and is looking to ramp up its monetization efforts for WhatsApp and Messenger soon. Pachter, who has an outperform rating and $162 target on the stock, said he anticipates those apps will drive long-term growth for the company, with Instagram alone projected to add $4 billion to $5 billion to revenue growth over the next two years.

Not everyone is as convinced, however, with SIG Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Shyam Patil saying some checks with advertisers indicate Instagram’s momentum may be “leveling off.” Others pointed to intensifying competition from Snapchat, which has been growing rapidly among younger users, and is reportedly seeking a $25 billion public valuation.

Also See: Facebook’s video-ad scandal

Expect some questions about Facebook’s video metrics, after the company admitted early in the quarter that it had miscalculated and greatly overstated how much time people were spending watching videos on the platform. Sanderson, who has a buy rating and $165 target on the stock, said he doesn’t expect much fallout from the video issue, while Patil said the issue didn’t seem to be having an impact on spending patterns.

It is also important to keep an eye on Facebook’s newer hardware businesses, such as Oculus VR. The company’s first consumer-grade virtual-reality headset hit store shelves earlier this year, but faces competition from similar devices built by HTC Corp. 2498, +0.00%   and Sony Corp. SNE, -0.51%  .

At a developers conference earlier this month, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted that Oculus Rift had “a little bit of a slow start.” However, that remains just a small portion of the company’s business.

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