Facebook took the occasion of positive first quarter results to announce a plan to consolidate power within the company with CEO and founder Mark Zuckerberg.
Facebook’s net income nearly tripled year-over-year, according to first-quarter results filed on Wednesday, sending the company’s stock soaring more than 8% in after-hours trading, and bucking the trend of disappointing results in the tech sector.
The company’s net income was $1.51bn for the first three months of the year, up from $512m in the same period last year. Margins improved from 26% in 2015 to 37% in 2016.
That good news gave Facebook the opportunity to announce what could be a bitter pill for investors to swallow: a plan to issue a new class of non-voting stock that will allow Zuckerberg to maintain control of the company even as he gives his shares away.
Last year, Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, announced their intention to give 99% of their shares in Facebook to the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative over the course of their lifetimes.
If the new stock plan is approved, Zuckerberg wrote in a note included in the filings: “I’ll be able to keep founder control of Facebook so we can continue to build for the long term, and Priscilla and I will be able to give our money to fund important work sooner.”
General counsel Colin Stretch framed the non-voting stock as a win for investors in a letter contained in the filing. “The board’s proposal will allow Facebook to maintain and improve upon the structure that has served shareholders well, while also enabling Mark to pursue his important goals through the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative.”
Current Facebook shareholders will be issued two shares of Class C stock as a dividend for every one share of voting stock they hold, if the proposal is approved. The deal is “subject to the approval of our stockholders,” according to the company, but Zuckerberg holds a majority of voting Facebook shares.
A similar proposal undertaken over investor objections by Google ended in an expensive shareholder lawsuit at that company. The vote on whether or not to create the new class of stock will take place at the company’s shareholders meeting in June.
Asked what would happen to the new structure were Zuckerberg to leave Facebook, CFO David Wehner told analysts: “The new capital structure is generally dependent on Mark continuing to play an active role in Facebook leadership.”
Zuckerberg said that, given the company’s current position, it didn’t makes sense to change the leadership structure. “We navigated a challenging transition to mobile but because we were a founder-led company we were able focus on building our apps” and other software “rather than do something short-sighted,” he said.
Facebook’s gains stands in stark contrast to quarterly results across the tech sector, where giants such as Apple, Alphabet and Twitter have failed to keep pace with market expectations.
Ad revenue was up by more than half, from $3.3bn to $5.2bn. The company is at the forefront of trends toward greater mobile use and more significant video advertising revenue; monthly active users and daily active users were up in excess of 20% on mobile devices. Facebook’s base of people who check in on the site at least once a day on their smartphones stands just shy of 1bn, at 989m users.
Zuckerberg emphasized more than once in the Wednesday afternoon call with investors that the company’s investment in virtual reality, notably the $2bn investment in Oculus, wouldn’t be repaying that money any time soon. “A lot of what we’re doing today including virtual and augmented reality may not pay off for years,” he said.
Sales of Oculus Rift, which began this year but were not broken out in the filings, are “not going to have a material impact on revenue in 2016”, Wehner added.
“Most Rift early adopters are gamers and developers,” Zuckerberg admitted. Still, he said, he expected an eventual return on investment and said he believed VR would be “the next big computing platform”.
“We’re focused on our 10-year roadmap to give everyone in the world the power to share anything they want with anyone,” said Zuckerberg.
On Tuesday, Apple reported its first decline in revenue since 2003 due in part, according to analysts, to smartphone market saturation. That ubiquity of devices like Apple’s primary product, the iPhone, remains an advantage for Facebook.
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