A man using the Facebook application on his smartphone. (Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg)

Facebook Results to Be Scoured for Evidence of User Defections

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is on tap to report first-quarter results after the close of trading on Wednesday, and Wall Street will scour the numbers for any signs of user losses or a drop-off in advertiser spending.

The company’s shares have tumbled 10 percent this year, with much of the decline related to revelations in March that Facebook failed to safeguard the data of millions of users. Political-consulting firm Cambridge Analytica obtained information on as many as 87 million Facebook users in 2014 and then lied about deleting the data, Facebook has said. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg has spoken about the social network’s efforts to improve privacy protection to users, journalists and U.S. Congress. Now he’ll need to address Wall Street.

Here’s a look at some of the numbers investors will monitor most closely:

User Growth

Zuckerberg has said the company has seen no meaningful impact from a social-media hashtag campaign aimed at encouraging users to delete their accounts.

The company is projected to report daily active users of 1.45 billion, the average of analyst estimates, compared with 1.4 billion in the fourth quarter. Monthly active users probably rose to 2.19 billion, analysts predicted. That’s up from 2.13 billion in the preceding period.

Facebook Results to Be Scoured for Evidence of User Defections

Facebook suffered its first-ever decline in North American users and said that time spent on its social network declined 5 percent in the December quarter. Investors will be on the lookout for whether the trends continued in the first three months of the year. Menlo Park, California-based Facebook attributed the drop in time spent to changes in how it surfaces information in the News Feed. The idea was to reduce time-wasting clutter and provide more "meaningful" social interaction, Facebook said. The question for analysts, though, will be whether the declines are truly Facebook’s own design or a reflection of user preference.

Revenue

Another concern confronting Facebook is whether companies will look to promote their brands and products elsewhere. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg told Bloomberg News earlier this month that some advertisers -- "a few" -- had in fact paused spending. Even so, analysts are forecasting a 42 percent increase in sales, to $11.4 billion. Heather Bellini, of Goldman Sachs, said she expects “little to no impact” on advertising spending from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Facebook’s net income likely increased to $1.38 a share, according to estimates compiled by Bloomberg.

Expenses

Facebook has also come under fire for its failure to stanch the spread of hate speech and false or misleading news. In response, the company has said it will ramp up spending on the staff needed to monitor what gets posted and spread around the social network. Costs related to increased staffing threaten to crimp profit margins. Analysts at MKM said that Facebook management will probably talk up aggressive efforts to identify and curtail misuse of data by third parties. "While we think that existing expense guidance offers plenty of room to support such efforts, we think that commentary to appease regulators and users is a higher priority for management than near-term comfort to investors” the analysts wrote in a recent report.

There are plenty of other, potentially more expensive reasons Facebook is boosting spending, aside from its efforts to regain the public’s trust. The company is shelling out money for content deals for its new video section, Facebook Watch, and investing in research and development in artificial intelligence and its hardware businesses.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.