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Facebook Says Its Ad Business Is Getting Hit but Won't Say by How Much

By Evan Niu, CFA - Updated Mar 26, 2020 at 3:25PM

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The social networking giant says that "our business is being adversely affected" and that it's "seen a weakening in our ads business."

Along with other companies across industries providing updates to investors regarding financial impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Facebook (META 5.10%) acknowledged this week that its revenue is being hurt. However, the social networking giant stopped short of quantifying the effect or providing detailed guidance. The news is somewhat expected following comments from COO Sheryl Sandberg last month that "the marketing industry is certainly going to see a real impact."

Smaller rival Twitter (TWTR 0.39%) withdrew its guidance earlier this week, saying revenue in the first quarter is now expected to decline after initially guiding its top line to around 9% growth at the midpoint of its forecast. Here's what Facebook said.

Two chat bubbles overlapping to create a lock icon

Image source: Facebook.

Usage of non-monetized services is soaring

As one might expect, the COVID-19 outbreak is driving increased usage of many Facebook platforms as people try to remain socially connected during the crisis. In countries that have been hit hard, messaging usage has jumped more than 50% over the past month, while video calling usage has more than doubled on platforms like Messenger and WhatsApp. Facebook notes that it has never really effectively monetized these types of services anyway, though not for a lack of trying.

"At the same time, our business is being adversely affected like so many others around the world," Facebook execs Alex Schultz and Jay Parikh wrote in a blog post. "We don't monetize many of the services where we're seeing increased engagement, and we've seen a weakening in our ads business in countries taking aggressive actions to reduce the spread of COVID-19."

Considering how important those services are at a time like this, Facebook is working hard to maintain them to provide stable and reliable communications. That presents particular challenges when employees are working remotely and may not have access to the same types of on-site resources.

The fact that Facebook has invested billions upon billions of dollars in its first-party infrastructure, with a sprawling network of data centers the world over, is a key advantage that the company may have over companies that outsource those functions to third-party cloud providers. Facebook has greater control over its infrastructure and doesn't have to compete with others for capacity.

Facebook's original guidance

That was the extent of detail that the tech company provided to investors with just days left in the first quarter. Facebook is one of those companies that likes to provide its outlook in a convoluted way instead of straightforward forecasts, much to the chagrin of shareholders that would prefer guidance in simpler terms.

On its earnings call  in January, CFO Dave Wehner originally said revenue in the first quarter was expected to "decelerate by a low- to mid-single-digit percentage point as compared to our Q4 growth rate." Total revenue in the fourth quarter had grown 25%, and Q1 2019 revenue was $15.1 billion. Loosely translating the underlying math (growth of 20% to 24%) into dollar terms results in an initial forecast of $18.1 billion to $18.7 billion, but Facebook will now likely miss that guidance.

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