October 31, 2013:Facebook’s financials are strong but teenage drain spooks investors

zuckerberg-pesky-kidsOh Facebook. The company’s announcement of its latest quarterly financial results was going swimmingly yesterday, until a short comment about shrinking use of the social network by teenagers gave investors a pre-Halloween fright.

Overnight, the story has moved from Facebook’s impressive growth in revenues and mobile usage to one about the prospect of a drain in younger users towards newer, cooler rivals.

The results first: Facebook’s revenues rose 60% year-on-year to $2.02bn, while the company moved from a net loss of $59m in Q3 2012 to a net profit of $425m in Q3 2013. Facebook’s monthly active users (MAUs) rose 18% to 1.19bn, while its daily active users (DAUs) rose 25% to 728m.

Advertising revenues climbed 66% to $1.8bn, with 49% of that income coming from mobile ads. Oh, and Facebook now has 874m mobile MAUs and 507m mobile DAUs. “The strong results we achieved this quarter show that we’re prepared for the next phase of our company,” said CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

He would have gotten away for it if it hadn’t been for those pesky kids. “Our best synopsis on youth engagement in the U.S. reveals that usage of Facebook among U.S. teens overall was stable from Q2 to Q3,” said CFO David Ebersman in Facebook’s earnings call with analysts. “We did see a decrease in daily users specifically among younger teens.”

As VentureBeat points out, those last 12 words alone knocked $18bn off Facebook’s value as its share price dropped, despite Ebersman’s follow-up comment that “we remain close to fully penetrated among teens in the U.S., our monthly user numbers remain steady and overall engagement on Facebook remains strong”.

The investor panic is partly because Facebook has been asked questions about whether teens are fleeing the social network that’s now used by their parents and grandparents for some time, and this is the first time the company hasn’t just rubbished the suggestion.

It falls into a desire among some observers for social networking to fall into a cyclical pattern: young internet users adopt a service, it grows massive, younger users ditch it, and it slides into irrelevance.

Facebook *seems* too big to be the next Friendster, Bebo or Myspace, but the growth of mobile-only apps from WhatsApp and WeChat to Line, Snapchat and Ask.fm is posing increasingly serious questions about Facebook’s appeal to its youngest users.

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Stuart Dredge
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