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Facebook climbs from IPO wreckage

Aug 01 2013 08:51 AFP
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(Shutterstock)

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New York - Social networking giant Facebook on Wednesday finally climbed out from the wreckage of its much-hyped but quickly panned stock market debut more than a year ago.

The company's shares traded slightly above their initial $38 public offering price for the first time since their debut amid much fanfare in May 2012. The shares retreated, however, to end official trading at $36.80 on Wednesday.

Facebook has been on an upward cycle since releasing earnings a week ago that showed a big jump in mobile advertising revenue. Shares have rocketed more than 40% since the earnings release.

The rally has been seen by some analysts as a turning point for the company, though more sceptical experts believe tricky curves need to be negotiated on the road ahead.

"They haven't addressed the fundamental problem which is that they have yet to find a way to make the social aspects of the service uniquely powerful for advertisers," said independent analyst Rob Enderle of Enderle Group in Silicon Valley.

"They are just finding ways to add ads and that tends to drive users away. Ads really don't work well on small screens."

Facebook got as high as $38.31 Wednesday shortly after the market opened.

The stock has only closed above $38 on one occasion: its first day on the markets.

Facebook shares plummeted after the highly anticipated IPO last year and languished, primarily due to doubts about the California-based company's ability to make money from members using mobile devices to get online.

But the most recent earnings report showed that some 41% of its ad revenues came from mobile, compared with 30 percent in the prior quarter and virtually nothing a year ago.

"Over the last three months, there have been a lot of innovations from Facebook," said Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry. "The long-term trends are favourable, but it is still a bit early."

Chowdhry noted that Facebook is distinguishing itself from rivals such as Google and Yahoo by establishing itself as "the social hub" where advertisers can target messages based on members' "social, interest, and affinity graphs".

Company officials during an earnings call boasted that they were able to recoup higher "cost per click" fees from advertisers, a distinction that contrasted with Google and some other technology companies that have seen such fees fall.

Facebook last year directly integrated ads into users' newsfeed, whereas previously they had been segregated onto the right side of the screen and not visible on smartphones.

Forrester analyst Nate Elliott, however, said Facebook may be "pulling the mobile ad lever too hard" and be hitting users with too many marketing messages in an effort to prove itself.

Of Facebook's 1.15 billion monthly users as of June 30, 819 million use a mobile device. And of the 669 million who use the site daily, 469 million use a mobile device, according to Facebook.

Facebook this week got into the business of publishing mobile games, offering developers help at going global with smartphone or tablet titles in exchange for a share of revenue.

The leading social network announced a Facebook Mobile Games Publishing pilot program in which it will work with small or medium-sized developers and promote their works in the online community.

More than 800 million members of the social network use Facebook mobile applications, and 260 million of those people play games on social network.

But at the same time, the company has been slow to introduce video ads on its site. There is speculation that Facebook is working on adding television-style advertising to its service.

The company recently added smartphone video-sharing to its Instagram photo-based social network, in a move challenging Twitter's popular Vine service.

"We are building Instagram to be a business and we expect over time to make a lot of profit from it," Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg said during the recent earnings call.

"The right focus for now is to increase the footprint and, when the right time comes, we will do advertising as well."

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