Facebook reports a strong Q4 as company closes gap with Google

FILE - In this Dec. 13, 2011 file photo, a sign with Facebook's "Like" logo is posted at Facebook headquarters near the office for the company's User Operations Safety Team in Menlo Park, Calif. After four months of testing outside the U.S., Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said on Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, that "pretty soon" multiple new emotions will be added to the social network throughout the world. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File)


By Michael Liedtke ,AP

SAN FRANCISCO, California — Facebook is growing at an exceptional pace as it enters adolescence, propelling it into a better position to challenge Google as the Internet’s most powerful company.

Facebook’s fourth quarter report Wednesday provided the latest gauge of the company’s impressive strides.

It marked the first time that Facebook’s quarterly revenue has surpassed US$5 billion — more than fading Internet star Yahoo now generates in an entire year. Facebook’s earnings also more than doubled to US$1.56 billion, even as the Menlo Park, California, company invests heavily in virtual reality, artificial intelligence, Internet access in remote parts of the world and a mobile ad network for services other than its own.

The performance lifted Facebook’s stock by US$11.37, or 12 percent, to US$105.82 in extended trading after the report came out.

Although Google remains three times larger by revenue, Facebook has been closing the gap as it sells more mobile advertising on its addictive social-networking app. And it’s just beginning to mine revenue from its trendy Instagram service and a rapidly expanding video library.

This spring’s debut of the Oculus Rift headset, part of the virtual-reality technology that Facebook bought for US$2 billion in 2014, could open another lucrative market. Google is now hiring more virtual-reality specialists, a sign that is trying to catch up with Facebook in a still-nascent field that could transform computing.

Social networking remains Facebook’s foundation. The service picked up another 46 million users during the final three months of last year to expand its worldwide audience to 1.59 billion users.

“I’m excited about our progress and the chance to build something great for the future,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told analysts in a Wednesday conference call.

Google, now a part of the recently created Alphabet Inc., is thriving too, with more than 1 billion users on its search engine as well as its YouTube video site and its Android software for mobile devices. That makes it unlikely that Facebook will topple Google anytime soon.

Powered by the world’s dominant Internet search engine, Google still sells the most digital advertising by a wide margin. Just how much more will be disclosed Monday, when Alphabet is scheduled to announced its fourth quarter earnings. Alphabet is expected to report fourth quarter revenue of nearly US$17 billion, after subtracting ad commissions, nearly triple what Facebook generated during the same three-month period.

But consider this: Facebook will be turning 12 years old next week and it just posted revenue of US$5.8 billion in its latest quarter. At the same stage of its existence in September 2010, Google’s net revenue stood at US$5.5 billion.