Facebook today said it is authorizing a $6 billion stock buyback that will go into effect in the first quarter next year.
Facebook in its last earnings call also said that its growth would likely slow as a result of the company reaching its maximum advertising load. While Facebook has historically grown at a very fast clip, the company is now in a position that it needs to find additional ways to create value for investors beyond just trying to expand its user base and gather more eyeballs to put ads in front of.
For Facebook, keeping control of the company doesn’t necessarily seem like an issue. Earlier this year, Facebook issued a new class of stock that would essentially keep Mark Zuckerberg in control of the company, enabling him to outmaneuver any kind of heavy pressure from Wall Street. That means Facebook can essentially continue to make long-term plays — while that may be to the chagrin of industry watchers and investors. However, share repurchases can sometimes be useful for reducing the overall amount of outstanding shares.
Companies can authorize a share repurchase for a number of reasons. For one, it represents an opportunity for the company to return value to shareholders (the company can also issue a dividend), which may be agitating the company to do something in order to build up good will with Wall Street. A near-term buyback can buy Facebook time to keep pressure off the company while investing in longer-term plays, such as growing its other platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp and investing in virtual reality.
In fact, Facebook pretty much spells that out in its filing with the SEC:
“The timing and actual number of shares repurchased will depend on a variety of factors, including price, general business and market conditions, and alternative investment opportunities,” the company said in its filing. “The program will be executed consistent with the Company’s capital allocation strategy of prioritizing investment to grow the business over the long term.”
In some cases, share buybacks may even be a result from pressure from investors. For example, around 2013 activist investor Carl Icahn pressured Apple to buy back more shares in an effort to return value to shareholders. Facebook shares are up around 9% year-over-year, but it hasn’t seen the crazy levels of growth it’s had historically (the shares are up almost 60% over the past two years).
Facebook has been sitting on a large cash pile. With $26 billion sitting in the bank, investors may be impatient with the company’s use of that cash even while it invests heavily in growth and research and development. This is a perpetual optics issue with Apple, which has amassed a cash pile of more than $200 billion.
Facebook, which saw its shares decline after its most-recent earnings, may have an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone as it picks shares back up at a lower price. There’s no specific schedule for the stock buyback, so it can essentially make a repurchase whenever it wants. Following the announcement, shares of Facebook were up around 2%, though they have dropped to now remain largely unchanged.
The company also said that its chief accounting officer, Jas Athwal, would be leaving the company after serving at the company for nearly 9 years in a separate filing.
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