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Social media a mixed bag but some are making a connection

16 May 2016 in Trading Ideas

Key Takeaways

  • Facebook’s move to mobile has grown its market and re-energized its contact with users.
  • LinkedIn and Yelp are back in investors’ favor.
  • Motifs mentioned: Social Networking
  • Stocks mentioned: Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOG), LinkedIn Corp (NYSE:LNKD), Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP), Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR)

For the social media sector, the spring earnings season seemed to mostly exist to give the industry’s leaders another chance to show off.

Let’s start with Facebook Inc. (NASDAQ:FB), which recently announced that it tripled its recent quarterly profit – a crowning achievement that essentially completes the company’s move from cornering social advertising on the desktop to mobile.

The shift has given the company a larger market, resulting in more registered users opening the site every day. As Andressen Horowitz partner and analyst Benedict Evans noted, the total of daily active users on the site has risen to 65 percent of monthly active users, from 50 percent.1

Facebook said advertising revenue jumped 57 percent in the first quarter to $5.2 billion. Mobile ads, which commands a premium over desktop ads, accounted for roughly four-fifths of that revenue.2

“Businesses are no longer asking if they should market on mobile, they’re asking how,” Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told the Wall Street Journal.

Digital ads expected to overtake traditional advertising

In addition, Facebook grew its total users to 1.65 billion from 1.44 billion a year ago, while extracting more revenue from each of them—an average of $3.32.

Facebook has gained traction with advertisers at a time when they are racing to increase digital spending. Many ad companies project digital media will surpass television as the world’s largest advertising medium as soon as next year, according to the Journal.

Even better for Facebook investors – the company is now expected to devour about 12 percent of the $186.8 billion global digital-advertising market this year, up from 10.7 percent last year. By contrast, Alphabet’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) shares are projected to decline to 31 percent from 33 percent last year.

Pivotal Research estimates that Facebook will capture 47 percent of all digital advertising growth – and 43 percent of all advertising growth outside of China this year.3

Facebook’s success has been helped by several new ad types, such as dynamic product ads, which allow users to scroll through items in a company’s product catalog. It also made it easier for companies to buy ads on its Instagram site — Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said Instagram ads accounted for the increased share of revenue on mobile devices.4

Unsurprisingly, shares of Facebook jumped after the report, and the stock is up nearly 9 percent in the past month.

Facebook has a 23.2 percent weighting in the Social Networking motif, which is performing about even with the S&P 500, down 1.3 percent on the month.

In the past 12 months, the motif has fallen 12 percent; the S&P 500 is down nearly 1 percent.

Mobile also played a big part in LinkedIn Corp’s (NYSE:LNKD) recent profit report, which saw that job-and-recruiter site operator post revenue growth of 35 percent, surpassing Wall Street’s expectations.

The company’s chief executive, Jeff Weiner, said the site’s new mobile experience was leading its users to increase activity on the site, “helping drive strong levels of engagement across the platform.”5

Daily sharing increased nearly 40 percent and traffic to third-party publishers rose more than 150 percent. Roughly 20 percent more people used LinkedIn to look for jobs than they did a quarter ago.

The company also looked good raising second-quarter revenue and earnings above analysts’ expectations.

Yelp seemingly on the mend but Twitter a question mark

Meanwhile, Yelp Inc. (NYSE:YELP) joined the bullish chorus a week later after better-than-expected first-quarter results prompted the company to boost its revenue projection for the year. Its revenue jumped 34 percent, thanks to a boost in local advertising accounts above the company’s projections.6

The company said its average monthly unique visitors on mobile jumped to 69 million from 66 million a year earlier. Desktop users grew to 77 million from 75 million.

Unfortunately, not every prominent member of the social media fraternity had a great quarter. Twitter Inc. (NYSE:TWTR) continued its sideways (at best) ways, offering a mixed-bag earnings report recently that extinguished some of the remaining optimism about the company’s prospects.

While Twitter reported that its monthly active user base grew to 310 million, monetization of the site remains an issue: The company missed Wall Street’s first-quarter revenue expectations, and said second-quarter revenue would come in well below analysts’ estimates.

On the other hand, if Twitter can tinker its growth engine to start revving higher, social media investors have shown the ability to reward a turnaround.

  1. Benedict Evans newsletter, May 2, 2016.
  2. Deepa Seetharaman, “Facebook Revenue Soars on Ad Growth,” wsj.com, April 28, 2016.
  3. Jessica Guynn, “Facebook shares surge on strong mobile growth,” usatoday.com, April 28, 2016, http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/news/2016/04/27/facebook-first-quarter-earnings-beat/83568522/, (accessed May 9, 2016).
  4. Deepa Seetharaman, “Facebook Revenue Soars on Ad Growth,” wsj.com, April 28, 2016.
  5. Deepa Seetharaman, “LinkedIn Surpasses Expectations, Offers Positive Outlook,” wsj.com, April 28, 2016.
  6. Maria Armental, “Yelp Raises Annual Revenue Guidance,” wsj.com, May 5, 2016.