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Shares of Facebook parent Meta plunge 22% on lower profits

February 2, 2022, 10:49 PM UTC

Meta, the company that owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, saw its stock plunge after-hours Wednesday after unexpectedly heavy spending on its “metaverse” project led to a rare decline in its fourth-quarter profit.

That’s in addition to a lower-than-expect revenue outlook for the current quarter due in part to growing competition from rival platforms clamoring for people’s time, such as TikTok.

Meta’s shares fell 22.6% to $249.90 in after-hours trading. If the drop holds until the market opens Thursday, the company’s market capitalization — its overall value — is on track to drop by nearly $200 billion. That’s a bit more than the entire gross domestic product of Greece, based on data from the World Bank.

The Menlo Park, Calif.-based company said it earned $10.29 billion, or $3.67 per share, in the final three months of 2021. That’s down 8% from $11.22 billion, or $3.88 per share, in the same period a year earlier. Revenue rose to 20% to $33.67 billion.

Analysts, on average, were expecting earnings of $3.85 per share on revenue of $33.36 billion, according to a poll by FactSet.

Meta invested heavily in its Reality Labs segment — which includes its virtual reality headsets and augmented reality technology — during the quarter, accounting for much of the profit decline.

Meta Platforms Inc., formerly Facebook, took on its new name last fall to signal CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s ambition to become what he called a “metaverse company.” Since then, the company has been shifting resources and hiring engineers — including from competitors like Apple and Google — who can help realize his vision.

The metaverse is sort of the internet brought to life, or at least rendered in 3D. Zuckerberg has described it as a “virtual environment” you can enter instead of just viewing it on a screen. Theoretically, the metaverse would be a place where people can meet, work and play using virtual reality headsets, augmented reality glasses, smartphone apps or other devices.

Zuckerberg is betting that the metaverse will be the next generation of the internet because he thinks it’s going to be a big part of the digital economy. He expects people to start seeing Meta as a “metaverse company” in the coming years, rather than a social media company.

For now, though, the metaverse exists only as an amorphous idea dubbed by a science fiction writer. It’s not yet clear if it’ll be the next iteration of human-computer interaction the way Zuckerberg sees it, or just another playground for techies and gamers.

This could be spooking investors, who tend to prefer immediate, or at least quick, results on investments.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty about Meta’s investments in the metaverse and if or when they will have a positive impact on the company’s bottom line,” said Debra Aho Williamson, an analyst with Insider Intelligence.

“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,” she added.

Meta said it expects revenue between $27 billion and $29 billion for the current quarter, below the $30.2 billion analysts are forecasting.

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