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Facebook Earnings: Here's What to Watch

By Daniel Sparks – Apr 22, 2020 at 7:41AM

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Analysts are expecting COVID-19 to have a substantial negative impact on the social network's ad revenue.

Facebook (META 1.74%) will be among the first digital advertising companies to report quarterly results during this coronavirus pandemic. The company is scheduled to report its first-quarter earnings next week, on April 29. The update will provide a timely view into Facebook's business and the impact of COVID-19 on advertising spend.

Ahead of tech giant's first-quarter update, here's a preview of some areas investors may want to check on.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg presents 10-year plan at F8 conference in 2016

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Image source: Facebook.

Revenue growth

Investors will undoubtedly pay close attention to Facebook's revenue during the quarter. With advertising revenue accounting for nearly all of the tech company's total revenue, its year-over-year revenue growth rate will help gauge the degree that ad spend is taking a hit as many retailers have closed their doors and as consumers are sheltering at home.

In Facebook's fourth quarter, revenue increased 25% year over year. But management said in its fourth-quarter earnings call that it expected its first-quarter year-over-year revenue growth rate to "decelerate by a low to mid single-digit percentage point as compared to our Q4 growth rate," translating to about 20% to 24% growth during Q1.

This forecast, of course, was before management knew how severely COVID-19 would impact global markets toward the end of Q1. Unsurprisingly, analysts are expecting much slower revenue growth than this outdated forecast. On average, analysts expect Facebook's first-quarter revenue to rise 16.9% year over year during the period. 

Expenses

Going into 2020, management said it expected total expenses during the year to be between $54 billion and $59 billion. Typically, actual expenses end up being lower than Facebook's initial view, leading management to lower this outlook for full-year expenses as the year goes on. But given the additional resources and sales efforts Facebook may have deployed to help advertisers navigate these unprecedented times, it seems unlikely that expenses are tracking below this annual run rate.

Revenue guidance

Perhaps the most telling information in the update will be management's outlook for the current quarter. Consumers didn't start sheltering at home and businesses didn't start closing their doors until the last few weeks of March. The impact to ad revenue in Q1, therefore, may have been small. But the impact to Q2 could be more significant.

Analysts have modeled for a dramatic deceleration in ad spend in Q2, implied by anemic forecasts for Facebook's year-over-year revenue growth rate. On average, analysts expect the social network's revenue to rise just 5.8% year over year during the period.

Will COVID-19's impact on Facebook be this bad? Investors will find out when the social network reports its first-quarter results after the market closes on Wednesday, April 29.

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. Daniel Sparks has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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