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Meta shares plummet after disappointing earnings, user drop

Weaker-than-expected earnings overshadow the performance of Meta's AR and VR business.

Facebook renamed itself Meta in October.
Screenshot/Meta

Facebook parent Meta's stock fell more than 26% on Thursday after disappointing fourth-quarter earnings and a drop in daily users underscored how much the company relies on social media as it develops its metaverse ambitions. 

Meta shares fell $85.24 to close at $237.76. The collapse in share price wiped out almost $240 billion from the social network's value. The fall was the largest single-day drop in market value for a US company ever, according to Reuters.

The fall came after an earnings report Wednesday in which the company missed profit expectations and showed a quarterly drop for the first time in the number of daily active users on Facebook. Meta also said the augmented and virtual reality business at the heart of its metaverse plans is generating revenue but is unprofitable. 

In the fourth quarter, Meta posted revenue of $33.7 billion, beating analyst expectations of $33.4 billion. However, it earned $3.67 per share, falling short of the $3.84 per share projected by analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters. Facebook also reported a decrease of roughly 1 million daily active users, suggesting the social network may be reaching the peak of its growth.

The performance underscores how Meta, which rebranded last year as part of a push toward the metaverse, remains reliant on digital advertising on the Facebook social network and its photo service Instagram. Meta is staking its future on a new, immersive iteration of the internet known as the metaverse. The company's rebranding fueled hype around the online spaces where people will be able to work and socialize as digital avatars. 

The company's metaverse project, however, is in early stages and investments in it are eating into the company's profits. Reality Labs, the AR and VR unit housing the Oculus headset that will help anchor the push into the metaverse, generated $877 million in fourth-quarter revenue but lost $3.3 billion.  

"While we expect Meta to ramp up testing ads and commerce within its metaverse offerings this year, those efforts will be highly experimental and not likely to drive much revenue in the near term," said Debra Aho Williamson, a principal analyst at Insider Intelligence, which was formerly eMarketer.

Like other tech companies, Meta has warned that privacy changes imposed by Apple could make it harder for businesses to measure the effectiveness of their ads on Facebook and Instagram. The company also said it expected "headwinds" caused by inflation and supply chain disruptions that affect advertiser budgets. 

Facebook and Instagram users are also spending more time on the platform's short-form video product, Reels, which doesn't generate as much revenue as the company's News Feed or Stories where people can post content that vanishes in 24 hours. That's partly because Reels doesn't include as many ads compared to News Feed or Stories. 

"I'm confident that leaning harder into these trends is the right short-term tradeoff to make in order to get long-term gains. We've made these types of transitions before with mobile feed and Stories," Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg said in a call with analysts Wednesday. 

On top of that, Facebook is facing more competition from other apps such as short-form video app TikTok. Facebook's daily active users in the fourth quarter fell from 1.93 billion to 1.92 billion, with the quarterly drop mainly coming from developing countries.

Though the metaverse concept has been around for years, Meta has been hiring engineers and purchasing VR apps to bolster the creation of its virtual worlds. At Christmas, the Oculus app required to set up the Quest headset topped Apple's App Store, suggesting that people had purchased the headsets over the holidays as a gift. The social network is also working on augmented reality glasses and, with Ray-Ban, released its first pair of smart glasses to shoot photos and videos. 

Meta's efforts to build more digital realms has been bumpy. The company still faces criticism that it doesn't do enough to combat misinformation, hate speech and other types of offensive content, problems that will only grow more complex in the metaverse. The US Federal Trade Commission and multiple states, led by New York, are reportedly investigating potential anticompetitive practices by Oculus. This week, Meta shuttered its Diem cryptocurrency project after regulatory pushback. 

The challenges haven't stopped Meta from pushing forward with its futuristic vision of what it thinks will be the successor to the mobile internet. 

"If last year was about putting a stake in the ground for where we're heading, this year is going to be about executing," Zuckerberg said.