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Will Any of the Regulatory Drama Matter When Facebook Reports Earnings?

By Danny Vena - Updated Oct 28, 2019 at 7:37AM

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The social media platform's very public troubles are again making headlines. Do its users care?

Earnings season is kicking into high gear, and Facebook (META -1.01%) is one of the companies set to report the financial results of its third quarter after the market close on Wednesday, Oct. 30. The biggest question on the minds of investors is whether the ongoing regulatory saber-rattling will eventually derail the tech giant's continuing growth.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg was once again called to testify on Capitol Hill this week. At the same time, it was announced that 46 attorneys general have joined an antitrust investigation into the company.

This all comes just months after the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) assessed a record-setting $5 billion fine for Facebook's privacy practices that led to the Cambridge Analytica scandal. Oh, and did I mention the FTC opened another antitrust investigation?

The Facebook thumbs-up logo on a sign outside its headquarters.

Image source: Facebook.

In spite of all those obstacles, the company continued to grow, and its stock has gained an impressive 43% so far this year, though it's down slightly since its last earnings report. This begs the question: Do the regulatory issues even matter?

Not so much last quarter

Even with all the distractions, Facebook reported Q2 revenue of $16.88 billion, up 28% year over year, easily surpassing analysts' consensus estimates of $16.5 billion. The company doesn't provide quarterly guidance, instead saying that its growth will decelerate by a mid-single-digit percentage this year -- so it was still better than the company predicted.

Facebook officially announced the FTC fine, setting aside an additional $2 billion to go along with the $3 billion it earmarked in Q1 to cover the settlement. That aside, the company still generated net income of $2.6 billion and earnings per share (EPS) of $0.91, though both were down about 48% year over year due to the fine. Adjusting for the one-time events told a very different story, which resulted in EPS that grew 14% compared to the prior-year quarter.

Most users don't seem to care, though the campaign to #DeleteFacebook has resurfaced after a several-month hiatus.

That didn't stop Facebook from adding to its growing user base last quarter. Daily active users grew to 1.59 billion, up 8% year over year, while those who check in monthly topped 2.4 billion, also up 8%. Additionally, the company announced that more than 2.1 billion people use at least one of the company's family of services (Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp, or Messenger) each day, while 2.7 billion use one each month.

It any case, it doesn't seem like the company's troubles are all that troubling to the majority of its users.

A man writing code on a computer wearing a Facebook t-shirt.

Image source: Facebook.

Will this quarter be more of the same?

Facebook will bear the cost of its recent settlement with the FTC. Here's what CFO Dave Wehner had to say on the Q2 conference call:

These efforts will require significant investments in compliance processes, personnel and technical infrastructure. In addition, these efforts will make some of our existing product development processes more difficult, time consuming and costly.

This will likely pinch its results over the short term. Facebook doesn't provide quarterly guidance, but Wehner provided some broad strokes:

We continue to expect that our constant currency revenue growth rates will decelerate sequentially going forward. We also expect more pronounced deceleration in the fourth quarter and into 2020, partially driven by ad targeting related headwinds and uncertainties.

For investors, the reality is that Facebook will be plagued by the higher costs necessary to meet regulatory hurdles and to keep Russian trolls at bay on its platform, though it's difficult to say just how much it will cost. Analysts' consensus estimates are calling for revenue of $17.36 billion, up 26% year over year, and EPS of $1.91, an increase of about 8%.

If the company can produce results like that -- even in the face of all these obstacles -- it will likely continue to be a market-beating investment, albeit with a somewhat higher degree of risk. We'll get the most recent thinking when Facebook reports earnings on Wednesday.

Randi Zuckerberg, a former director of market development and spokeswoman for Facebook and sister to its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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