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Facebook Isn't Ignoring Its Issues, but Its Last Quarter Might Make You Want to

By Motley Fool Staff – May 3, 2018 at 8:22PM

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The social media titan set a new quarterly record for revenue, and cash on the balance sheet has more than doubled in the past two years.

In this segment of the Motley Fool Money podcast, host Chris Hill is joined by senior Fool analysts Jason Moser, David Kretzmann, and Jeff Fischer to weigh in on Facebook's (META -0.93%) first-quarter report, which -- strictly by the numbers -- depicts a company not particularly injured by the data mishandling scandal that has dominated the news coverage of it recently.

Sales, active users, the balance sheet -- all are headed in the right direction. But the quarter was mostly over before the news broke, expenses are about to rise significantly, and there's a clear trust issue in play. What investors need to know is whether the stock is still a good value and whether it belongs in their portfolios.

A full transcript follows the video.

This video was recorded on April 27, 2018.

Chris Hill: Let's move on to Facebook. First quarter revenue was a record high. Cash on the balance sheet, Jeff, has more than doubled in the past two years. This was one of those quarters that made everybody forget about Mark Zuckerberg's trip to Capitol Hill.

Jeff Fischer: [laughs] More or less, even though he opened the conference call with that. He said, "Our numbers were great, record high, but we have some bigger issues, some bigger fish to fry." But, to the cash balance, yeah, they're running at a $20 billion a year free cash flow run rate right now. Shares trade at about 25X that projected free cash flow. The sales numbers, sales were up 49%. Daily active users were up 13% to 1.45 billion. Monthly, also up 13% to 2.2 billion monthly active users.

My overall takeaway, even though expenses are expected to rise the rest of the year, up as much as 50-60%, is that I still like owning the stock. I would still be a buyer of the stock. The shares are inexpensive. The platform is proving extremely sticky. They're only still scratching the surface on ad revenue. Facebook, for example, has $45 billion in annual sales, almost all of it advertising. Google has nearly $120 billion in annual, mostly advertising, sales.

Meanwhile, the market just keeps growing larger and larger, and Facebook is taking more share, the ads are becoming more effective. They did make a point that advertisers have not left, that they do not ever sell your data, that advertisers can target you, but they don't know who you are. I think they're taking all the right steps -- I sure hope -- to make people trust Facebook again.

Hill: I'm glad you mentioned the spending that is coming later this year, because I noticed in the media coverage, immediately after the release was dropped in terms of what their earnings report was, some of the reaction was, "See? The Cambridge Analytica stuff, no problem! It's all in the past!" And to your point, no. As Zuckerberg indicated right at the start of the call, no, they are going to be hiring hundreds, if not thousands, of people. They are going to be spending a lot more money. It's not showing up in this quarter. It's going to be showing up in the quarters to come.

David Kretzmann: Yeah, this particular quarter, I think, only included about 10 days after that Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, so, we'll definitely be seeing more of that in the second, third and fourth quarters this year. But, I completely agree with Jeff. Facebook accelerated revenue growth, and their margins expanded this quarter, so they have plenty of cushion to digest any expense increases that are expected to come this year. The balance sheet is incredibly strong. Free cash flow grew 33% to $5 billion this quarter. So, I think, they can handle the increase in expenses.

And I also noticed they rolled out a national marketing campaign. I was watching the NBA playoffs, and lo and behold, saw a couple ads for Facebook pop up.

Fischer: Meanwhile, they're committed to improving the user experience on the site, as well. Even if that means, again, that you spend less time on the site, they want it to be more valuable to you. They're ready for the General Data Protection Regulation that rolls out in the E.U. on May 25th. If it works as hoped, they may just use that universally, or at least the best parts of it, around the world. That's a little bit of a question mark, though. They don't know if those regulations will ding ad sales in Europe. But, they're not that concerned about it.

Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Chris Hill has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. David Kretzmann owns shares of Alphabet (C shares) and Facebook. Jeff Fischer owns shares of Alphabet (C shares) and Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), and Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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