Meta Reports Profits More Than Tripled and Issues Its First Dividend

Meta on Thursday reported a 25 percent increase in quarterly revenue while profit more than tripled, a rise fueled by its ads business after a shaky 18 months of layoffs and a rocky digital advertising market.

The Silicon Valley company, which owns Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, also said it would issue its first dividend, of 50 cents a share. Dividends are typically associated with mature and slower-growth companies. Meta made the announcement as it spends heavily on capital investments, such as data centers and other infrastructure. The company also authorized an additional $50 billion in share buybacks.

The results pushed Meta’s shares up 14.5 percent to $449.51 in after-hours trading.

“Being a leaner company is helping us execute better and faster,” said Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s founder and chief executive, on a call with investors on Thursday.

“Moving forward, a major goal will be building the most popular and advanced A.I. products and services,” he added. “If we succeed, everyone who uses our services will have a world-class A.I. assistant to help get things done.”

For the three months ended Dec. 31, Meta’s revenue was $40.1 billion, up from $32.2 billion a year ago and exceeding Wall Street estimates of $39 billion, according to data compiled by FactSet. Profit was $14 billion, up from $4.65 billion a year earlier.

The company benefited from a continued rebound in digital ads, though marketers remain cautious about where they allocate their advertising budgets. On Tuesday, Google reported search revenue and a profit margin for its latest quarter that fell short of Wall Street expectations because of modest advertising growth.

Meta has undergone a tumultuous few years as the global economy shifted and wobbled the online ad markets. The company has also faced scrutiny for privacy issues and the spread of misinformation and toxic content on its platforms.

Mr. Zuckerberg has shifted the company into the immersive digital world of the metaverse. Last year, he also embarked on what he called a “year of efficiency” to cut costs, including laying off tens of thousands of employees. The company’s work force has shrunk by 22 percent since December 2022 and now stands at 67,317 employees.

In the latest quarter, Reality Labs, the division responsible for building virtual and augmented reality glasses and products, passed $1 billion in revenue for the first time. But it is not making money, losing $4.6 billion over that period.

Meta remains under pressure to rein in harmful content across its platforms, which are regularly used by more than four billion people. On Wednesday, Mr. Zuckerberg — along with other tech chief executives — was grilled in a congressional hearing over the proliferation of online child sexual abuse material. Mr. Zuckerberg told attendees of the hearing that he was sorry for what families of children who suffered abuse online had experienced.

Despite that, more people are regularly coming back to Meta’s services. The company hosts more than 3.98 billion users across its apps each month, up 6 percent from a year ago.

It also continues to invest heavily in artificial intelligence and redesigning its data centers to keep up with other tech giants in the highly competitive field. Meta said part of its increased operating expenses came from attracting top technical talent in A.I.

“We’re playing to win,” Mr. Zuckerberg said of the company’s A.I. efforts. “Expect us to continue investing aggressively in this area.”

“General intelligence will be the theme of our product work as well,” he added, referring to a more advanced type of A.I. that can solve cognitive tasks that humans can perform.

The company said layoffs and some other cost-cutting measures, such as restructuring its data centers, were “completed.” It took a restructuring charge of $1.1 billion for the quarter.

Meta said it expected to continue growing in the first three months of the year, with revenue in the range of $35 billion to $37 billion.

The company also bumped up its capital expenditure forecast to $30 billion to $37 billion over the course of 2024. Much of that will include building out and maintaining its infrastructure, as well as the ballooning cost of A.I. research and development.

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