Facebook Q4 tops expectations, CFO warns of iOS 14 impact on future ad revenue

Facebook CFO David Wehner said the company expects to face "more significant ad targeting headwinds in 2021," including the impact of iOS 14 and regulatory developments in Europe.

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Facebook reported better than expected fourth quarter financial results Wednesday, but worries about Apple's iOS changes and regulatory challenges overshadowed the strong results.

In prepared remarks, Facebook CFO David Wehner said the company expects to face "more significant ad targeting headwinds in 2021," including the impact of iOS 14 and regulatory developments in Europe.

"While the timing of the iOS 14 changes remains uncertain, we would expect to see an impact beginning late in the first quarter," Wehner said.

Nonetheless, Facebook's fourth quarter revenue climbed 33% year-over-year driven largely by ad revenue. 

On the conference call, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took aim at Apple's iOS 14 privacy changes, saying the iPhone maker was now one of Facebook's biggest competitors.

Now since I try to use these earnings calls to discuss aspects of business strategy that I think are important for investors to understand, I do want to highlight that we increasingly see Apple as one of our biggest competitors. iMessage is a key linchpin of their ecosystem. It comes pre-installed on every iPhone, and they preference it with private APIs and permissions, which is why iMessage is the most used messaging service in the U.S. And now we are also seeing apples business depend more and more on gaining share in apps and services against us and other developers. So Apple has every incentive to use their dominant platform position to interfere with how our apps and other apps work, which they regularly do to preference their own. And this impacts the growth of millions of businesses around the world including with the upcoming iOS 14 changes, many small businesses will no longer be able to reach their customers with targeted ads. 

As for the results, Facebook's Q4 diluted earnings per share were $3.88 on revenue of $28.072 billion. Analysts expected earnings of $3.22 on revenue of $26.43 billion. 

Facebook's total advertising revenue in Q4 rose 31% to $27.187 billion.

For the full year, Facebook's EPS came to $10.09 on revenue of $85.965 billion, well above expectations. Facebook shares were down around 2% after hours.

Elsewhere on the balance sheet, Facebook said daily active users were 1.84 billion on average for December 2020, an increase of 11% year-over-year. Its monthly active users totaled 2.8 billion as of December 31, 2019, an increase of 12% year-over-year.

The number of people active daily on at least one of Facebook's products -- including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, and WhatsApp -- was 2.6 billion on average for December 2020, an increase of 15% year-over-year. Monthly active people for Facebook products was 3.3 billion as of December 31, 2020, an increase of 14% year-over-year.

Facebook also announced that its Board of Directors has authorized $25 billion in incremental share repurchases.