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Facebook Frowns, Align Smiles as Another Earnings-Packed Day Leaves Stock Markets Mixed

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Wednesday saw cross-currents in the market continue.

Key Points

  • Markets were mixed on Wednesday.
  • Earnings season continued to see company reports flood in.
  • Two reports in particular got a lot of attention from investors.

Wednesday saw a return to how the stock market looked during much of the latter part of 2020. The The Nasdaq Composite (NASDAQINDEX:^IXIC) posted strong gains, climbing more than 100 points on the session. However, the Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJINDICES:^DJI) lost ground, as some of its higher-weight sectors weighed on the index. The S&P 500 (SNPINDEX:^GSPC) split the difference, finishing almost unchanged on the day.

Index

Percentage Change

Point Change

Dow

(0.36%)

(128)

S&P 500

(0.02%)

(1)

Nasdaq Composite

+0.70%

+102

Data source: Yahoo! Finance.

Once again, earnings season continued to bring results both before the market opened and in after-hours trading . Below, we’ll take a closer look at social media giant Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) and orthodontic clear alignment tool maker Align Technology (NASDAQ:ALGN) to see what took their stock prices in opposite directions after the closing bell Wednesday.

Two smiling people in an open grassy area with trees behind.

Image source: Getty Images.

No happy face for Facebook

Shares of Facebook closed the regular session on a positive note, helping to lead the Nasdaq higher with a  gain of 1.5%. However, the stock dropped 4% after hours following its release of second-quarter financial results that left shareholders wanting more.

Facebook’s numbers for the June 30 quarter were outstanding. Revenue jumped 56% year over year, as advertisers returned to more typical levels of activity following last year’s pandemic-affected numbers. Facebook managed to contain cost increases, and that led both operating income and net income to double from last year’s levels. Earnings of $3.61 per share came in well ahead of what most investors had anticipated seeing.

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Facebook saw its popularity continue to increase. Daily active users rose to 1.91 billion, up 7% from 12 months ago, while monthly active user counts hit 2.90 billion. That audience helped allow Facebook to boost average prices per ad by 47% year over year.

Yet investors reacted negatively to Facebook’s outlook, in which the social media giant said it expects revenue growth rates to decelerate significantly. Moreover, regulatory and platform issues could hurt Facebook’s ability to target ads as much as it would like. Until investors see what the future business environment will be for Facebook, the doubt could cause stock prices to remain under pressure.

Align keeps everything straight

Meanwhile, Align Technology managed to score some gains in the after-hours session. After falling about half a percent in the regular session, the orthodontic device specialist saw its stock rise nearly 2% in late afternoon trading.

Align set a new high-water mark for revenue during the second quarter of 2021, hitting $1 billion for the first time and producing 187% top-line growth year over year. Adjusted net income of $242 million topped expectations and produced adjusted earnings of $3.04 per share, reversing last year’s $0.35 per-share loss. Revenue from its clear aligner products soared 182% from year-ago levels as unit volume tripled, while sales of imaging and CAD/CAM services rose 215%.

CEO Joe Hogan called out the success of the iTero scanning and imaging system as a great complement to its Invisalign business. The company also expects full-year 2021 growth to remain at impressive levels, with sales of $3.85 billion to $3.95 billion representing 56% to 60% higher results than in 2020.

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In good times and bad, patients will need orthodontic work. Align’s products have become immensely popular, and as its market expands, Align will have further growth opportunities across the globe.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis — even one of our own — helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.

Dan Caplinger has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Align Technology and Facebook. The Motley Fool recommends Nasdaq. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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Facebook Adds New Trend Insights in Creator Studio, Which Could Help Shape Your Posting Strategy

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Facebook’s looking to provide more content insight within Creator Studio with the rollout of a new ‘Inspiration Hub’ element, which highlights trending content and hashtags within categories related to your business Page.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

As you can see in these screenshots, posted by social media expert Matt Navarra, when it becomes available to you, you’ll be able to access the new Inspiration Hub from the Home tab in Creator Studio.

At the right side of the screen, you can see the first of the new insights, with trending hashtags and videos from the last 24 hours, posted by Pages similar to yours, displayed above a ‘See more’ prompt.

When you tap through to the new hub, you’ll have a range of additional filters to check out trending content from across Facebook, including Page category, content type, region, and more.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

That could be hugely valuable in learning what Facebook users are responding to, and what people within your target market are engaging with in the app.

The Hub also includes insights into trending hashtags, within your chosen timeframe, which may further assist in tapping into trending discussions.

Facebook Inspiration Hub

How valuable hashtags are on Facebook is still up for debate, but you’ll also note that you can filter the displayed results by platform, so you can additionally display Instagram hashtag trends as well, which could be very valuable in maximizing your reach.

Much of this type of info has been available within CrowdTangle, Facebook’s analytics platform for journalists, for some time, but not everyone can access CrowdTangle data, which could make this an even more valuable proposition for many marketers.

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Of course, overall performance really relates to your own creative, and thinking through the action that you want your audience to take when reading your posts. But in terms of detecting new content trends, including hashtag usage, caption length, videos versus image posts, and more, there’s a lot that could be gleaned from these tools and filters.

It’s a significant analytics addition – we’ve asked Facebook for more info on the rollout of the new option, and whether it’s already beyond test mode, etc. We’ll update this post if/when we hear back.

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Meta Updates Policy on Cryptocurrency Ads, Opening the Door to More Crypto Promotions in its Apps

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With cryptocurrencies gaining momentum, in line with the broader Web 3.0 push, Meta has today announced an update to its ad policies around cryptocurrencies, which will open the door to more crypto advertisers on its platforms.

As per Meta:

Starting today, we’re updating our eligibility criteria for running ads about cryptocurrency on our platform by expanding the number of regulatory licenses we accept from three to 27. We are also making the list of eligible licenses publicly available on our policy page.”

Essentially, in order to run any crypto ads in Meta’s apps, that currency needs to adhere to regional licensing provisions, which vary by nation. With crypto becoming more accepted, Meta’s now looking to enable more crypto companies to publish ads on its platform, which will provide expanded opportunity for recognized crypto providers to promote their products, while also enabling Meta to make more money from crypto ads.

“Previously, advertisers could submit an application and include information such as any licenses they obtained, whether they are traded on a public stock exchange, and other relevant public background on their business. However, over the years the cryptocurrency landscape has matured and stabilized and experienced an increase in government regulation, which has helped to set clearer responsibilities and expectations for the industry. Going forward, we will be moving away from using a variety of signals to confirm eligibility and instead requiring one of these 27 licenses.”

Is that a good move? Well, as Meta notes, the crypto marketplace is maturing, and there’s now much wider recognition of cryptocurrencies as a legitimate form of payment. But they’re also not supported by most local financial regulators, which reduced transaction protection and oversight, which also brings a level of risk in such process.

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But then again, all crypto providers are required to clearly outline any such risks, and most also highlight the ongoing market volatility in the space. This expanded level of overall transparency means that most people who are investing in crypto have at least some awareness of these elements, which likely does diminish the risk factor in such promotions within Meta’s apps.

But as crypto adoption continues to expand, more of these risks will become apparent, and while much of the crypto community is built on good faith, and a sense of community around building something new, there are questions as to how much that can hold at scale, and what that will then mean for evolving scams and criminal activity, especially as more vulnerable investors are brought into the mix.

Broader promotional capacity through Meta’s apps will certainly help to boost exposure in this respect – though again, the relative risk factors are lessened by expanded regulatory oversight outside of the company.

You can read more about Meta’s expanded crypto ad regulations here.

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Meta Outlines Evolving Safety Measures in Messaging as it Seeks to Allay Fears Around the Expansion of E2E Encryption

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Amid rising concern about Meta’s move to roll out end-to-end encryption by default to all of its messaging apps, Meta’s Global Head of Safety Antigone Davis has today sought to provide a level of reassurance that Meta is indeed aware of the risks and dangers that such protection can pose, and that it is building safeguards into its processes to protect against potential misuse.

Though the measures outlined don’t exactly address all the issues raised by analysts and safety groups around the world.

As a quick recap, back in 2019, Facebook announced its plan to merge the messaging functionalities of Messenger, Instagram and WhatsApp, which would then provide users with a universal inbox, with all of your message threads from each app accessible on either platform.

The idea is that this will simplify cross-connection, while also opening the door to more opportunities for brands to connect with users in the messaging tool of their choice – but it also, inherently, means that the data protection method for its messaging tools must rise to the level of WhatsApp, its most secure messaging platform, which already includes E2E encryption as the default.

Various child safety experts raised the alarm, and several months after Facebook’s initial announcement, representatives from the UK, US and Australian Governments sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg requesting that the company abandon its integration plan.

Meta has pushed ahead, despite specific concerns that the expansion of encryption will see its messaging tools used by child trafficking and exploitation groups, and now, as it closes in on the next stage, Meta’s working to counter such claims, with Davis outlining six key elements which she believes will ensure safety within this push.

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Davis has explained the various measures that Meta has added on this front, including:

  • Detection tools to stop adults from repeatedly setting up new profiles in an attempt to connect minors that they don’t know
  • Safety notices in Messenger, which provide tips on spotting suspicious behavior
  • The capacity to filter messages with selected keywords on Instagram
  • More filtering options in chat requests to help avoid unwanted contact
  • Improved education prompts to help detect spammers and scammers in messages
  • New processes to make it easier to report potential harm, including an option to select “involves a child”, which will then prioritize the report for review and action

Meta messaging security options

Which are all good, all important steps in detection, while Davis also notes that its reporting process “decrypts portions of the conversation that were previously encrypted and unavailable to us so that we can take immediate action if violations are detected”.

That’ll no doubt raise an eyebrow or two among WhatsApp users – but the problem here is that, overall, the broader concern is that such protections will facilitate usage by criminal groups, and the reliance on self-reporting in this respect is not going to have any impact on these networks operating, at scale, under a more protected messaging framework within Meta’s app eco-system.

Governments have called for ‘backdoor access’ to break Meta’s encryption for investigations into such activity, which Meta says is both not possible and will not be built into its future framework. The elements outlined by Davis do little to address this specific need, and without the capacity to better detect such, it’s hard to see any of the groups opposed to Meta’s expanded encryption changing their stance, and accepting that the merging of all of the platform’s DM options will not also see a rise in criminal activity organized via the same apps.

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Of course, the counterargument could be that encryption is already available on WhatsApp, and that criminal activity of this type can already be undertaken within WhatsApp alone. But with a combined user count of 3.58 billion people per month across its family of apps, that’s a significantly broader interconnection of people than WhatsApp’s 2 billion active users, which, arguably, could open the door to far more potential harm and danger in this respect.

Really, there’s no right answer here. Privacy advocates will argue that encryption should be the standard, and that more people are actually more protected, on balance, by enhanced security measures. But there is also an undeniable risk in shielding even more criminal groups from detection.

Either way, right now, Meta seems determined to push ahead with the plan, which will weld all of its messaging tools together, and also make it more difficult to break-up its network, if any antitrust decisions don’t go Meta’s way, and it’s potentially pressed to sell-off Instagram or WhatsApp as a result.

But expect more debate to be had, in more countries, as Meta continues to justify its decision, and regulatory and law enforcement groups seek more options to help maintain a level of accessibility for criminal investigations and detection.

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