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Facebook shares are still up 20% in 2021 despite a slew of scandals—proving investors have short memories

October 26, 2021, 12:15 AM UTC

Facebook shareholders are a resilient bunch.

Over the course of its 17 years in existence, the social networking company created and led by Mark Zuckerberg has had its share of bad news cycles.

Investors have all the while maintained a short memory. Take the 2018 revelation that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm, had obtained millions of users’ Facebook data to create voter profiles—one of the company’s biggest scandals ever. Shares were rocked by the news, falling 15.1% over the following two weeks. Facebook shares cratered some 27% over the course of 2018. Six months into 2019, though, and the stock was back in the green—trading above $190 for the first time ever.

Then there was the time in 2019 when the the Federal Trade Commission hit the company with a $5 billion penalty that was born out of an investigation sparked by the Cambridge Analytica episode. Two weeks after the fact, the stock was down more than 8%. Shares would go on to climb back north of $200 by end the year, though, ending the 12 months up more than 55%.

Now, Facebook is arguably facing its biggest saga to date: the Facebook Papers.

Product manager turned whistleblower Frances Haugen has put Facebook in an unprecedented position—along with newly unearthed information from thousands of internal documents (many of which are from Haugen), other current and former employees, and new reporting. The company is facing a rush of questions on everything from its approach to attracting younger users to whether it listens to internal dissent to moderating potentially harmful content in some of the world’s most conflict-prone areas. The company has even reportedly floated changing its corporate name to better reflect the fact that Zuckerberg believes its future lies in the metaverse.

And yet, shares are still up 20% year to date in 2021.

“What we’ve learned over the years is that advertisers keep going back to Facebook as long as they’re getting good returns,” Wedbush Securities senior equity analyst Ygal Arounian tells Fortune. “That’s likely to be the case this time.”

Facebook is a digital advertising company at its heart, and, at a time when more and more eyeballs are perusing the web, its business has swelled.

Between 2016 and 2020, the company’s total revenues grew 211%, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence data. Gross profits in that window of time swelled 190%. Even in the first nine months of 2021 alone, the company’s total revenues have come within $1.7 million of those seen in all of last year. Net income for 2021 through Sept. 30 is now just about $61,000 shy of the profits reached in 2020, too.

News about what is now being called “the Facebook Papers” broke in mid-September when The Wall Street Journal catalogued a series of the documents’ findings in nearly a dozen different stories. The first came out Sept. 13. That week, Facebook shares fell about 3.6%. Over the following month, as more stories published, Congressional hearings were held, and an unprecedented reporting effort was taken up to find more information, Facebook’s stock slid more than 13%.

The Facebook Papers are only part of the reason why the company’s shares are down, though, Wedbush’s Arounian says.

Investors have been seemingly preparing for the company to report worse-than-expected third-quarter earnings, thanks to a series of ad-tracking changes recently instituted by Apple. Snap seemed to signal that a slowdown was coming Thursday when it reported its latest earnings, dramatically missing analyst expectations in the process. Facebook’s stock fell more than 5% on Friday alone in anticipation of Monday’s earnings report.

But when the company dropped its earnings Monday—on a day when more than a dozen news outlets published further Facebook investigations based on the internal documents leaked by Haugen and others and Haugen herself testified in front of U.K. lawmakers—the stock rose 1.26%. While Facebook did miss in some respects like on its revenues, it still beat analysts’ profit expectations. Facebook even rolled out plans for a $50 billion share buyback program.

And surely enough, shares in the company ticked even higher in after-hours trading, rising another 1.58%.

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