Facebook profit soars, no sign of impact from Russia issue

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc (FB.O) reported better-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue on Wednesday as it pushed further into video advertising, showing no sign of financial damage from the controversy over how Russia may have used the social network to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections.

The company’s shares rose about 1 percent to $184.50 in after-hours trading. The shares have gained almost 60 percent this year and hit a record high of $182.90 in regular trading.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, without mentioning Russia, said in the earnings report that Facebook’s spending on security would affect profitability, but the impact was not evident in its numbers on Wednesday.

“Protecting our community is more important than maximizing our profits,” Zuckerberg said.

Facebook is at the center of a political storm in the United States for the ways it handles paid political ads and allows the spread of false news stories. U.S. lawmakers have threatened tougher regulation and fired questions at Facebook General Counsel Colin Stretch in hearings this week.

Facebook, in a series of disclosures over two months, has said that people in Russia bought at least 3,000 U.S. political ads and published another 80,000 Facebook posts that were seen by as many as 126 million Americans over two years. Russia denies any meddling.

Facebook’s total advertising revenue rose 49 percent in the third quarter to $10.14 billion, about 88 percent of which came from mobile ads.

Analysts on average had expected total ad revenue of $9.71 billion, according to data and analytics firm FactSet.

The 49 percent increase in total ad sales in the latest quarter compares with a 47 percent rise in the prior quarter and a 51 percent jump in the first quarter.

Facebook has been warning for more than a year about reaching a limit in “ad load”, or the number of ads the company can feature in users’ pages before crowding their News Feed.

Advertisers seem unfazed, though, spending heavily as the social network continues to attract users.

The nearly 50 percent jump in ad revenue “is phenomenal, especially when for the past few quarters they’ve been trying to bring that expectation way, way down. Yet it keeps going up,” Tigress Financial Partners analyst Ivan Feinseth said.

Of the Russia scandal enveloping Facebook publicly, Feinseth said: “In the bigger picture, I don’t think it’s a really big factor.”

Facebook said about 2.07 billion people were using its service monthly as of Sept. 30, up 16 percent from a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected 2.06 billion monthly active users, according to FactSet.

Net income rose to $4.71 billion, or $1.59 per share, from $2.63 billion, or 90 cents per share.

Analysts on an average were expecting the company to earn $1.28, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total revenue increased 47.3 percent to $10.33 billion beating analysts estimate of $9.84 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Various U.S. investigations into how Russia may have tried to sway American voters in the months before and after last year’s elections are hanging over Facebook and its competitors.

There is also proposed U.S. legislation that would extend rules governing political ads on television, radio and satellite to also cover digital advertising.

“We expect more scrutiny about Facebook’s ad system ahead,” analyst Debra Aho Williamson of research firm eMarketer said in a note. “We’re also monitoring for any signs that this investigation will have a material impact on ad revenue.”

Reporting by David Ingram in Washington and Aishwarya Venugopal in Bengaluru; Editing by Shounak Dasgupta and Bill Rigby

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