Meta Platforms Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg struck a new tone with investors Wednesday: The social media giant will be leaner, more efficient and more decisive, with a big assist from artificial intelligence.
The company's shares gained more than 20pc in late trading on fourth-quarter revenue that beat expectations. Zuckerberg, who has spent the past year promising a faraway future in a digital world called the metaverse, on Wednesday was more focused on immediate problems, such as sending users the most relevant videos at the right time, and finally making significant revenue from messaging products. He called 2023 the "Year of Efficiency."
"We're working on flattening our org structure and removing some layers of middle management to make decisions faster, as well as deploying AI tools to help our engineers be more productive," Zuckerberg said on an earnings call with investors. "There's going to be some more that we can do to improve our productivity, speed and cost structure."
Zuckerberg said the company is using AI to improve the way it recommends content, a strategy for making the platform more attractive to users and advertisers alike. Meta is still suffering from a slump in demand for digital ads, which make up the vast majority of its sales, especially from clients in finance and technology. But the company also pointed to some industries, including health and travel, where businesses are spending more.
Fourth-quarter sales fell 4pc to $32.2bn, the third straight period of declines. Even so, the total beat analysts' estimates, and Meta projected revenue of $26bn to $28.5bn for the first quarter, in line with an average projection of $27.3bn. Analysts are predicting that Meta will return to growth following the current period.
Snap Inc., the parent of rival social-media app Snapchat, gave a less upbeat outlook on Tuesday, sending its shares down 10pc. Snap said it expected sales to decline in the current period, with CEO Evan Spiegel remarking that the ad slump appears to be bottoming out. "Advertising demand hasn't really improved, but it hasn't gotten significantly worse either," Spiegel said on a conference call.
Meta, whose shares have gained 27pc so far this year, is on the rebound after the worst year for its stock in history. The company faced a decline in advertiser demand due to weakness in the broader economy as well as a change in privacy rules on Apple Inc.'s iPhone, which made it harder for Meta to offer targeted ads. Meta cut 11,000 jobs, or 13pc of the workforce, in November in its first-ever major layoff.
Those cuts came during a quarter that was otherwise an improvement for the company. Facebook, Meta's flagship social network, now has more than 2 billion daily users, up more than 70 million from a year ago.
The company also boosted its stock-buyback authorization by $40bn, adding to the $10.9bn remaining from previous repurchase programs. In the fourth quarter, Meta recorded restructuring charges of $4.2bn related to its job cuts.
Zuckerberg has spent tens of billions of dollars on an effort to build the metaverse, a digital world where people can work and play. Those efforts are still in their early stages, which means much of the investment is not leading to immediate returns.
Still, the Menlo Park, California-based company said 2023 expenses will be $89bn to $95bn less than Meta previously forecast. That could help ameliorate investor concerns that the company is overspending on its virtual-reality ambitions.
Capital expenditures in the recent quarter soared to $32bn billion. In the fourth quarter of 2021, by contrast, capital spending was $5.54bn.