Long before it was called Meta, Facebook was a Wall Street darling because of its breakneck growth and big profits. But the company had lost its luster with investors over the past 18 months thanks to a slump in ad sales and what some saw as self-inflicted wounds.
On Wednesday, the company appeared to regain some of its footing. Meta said its revenue for the second quarter jumped 11 percent from a year earlier, to $32 billion. Profits rose 16 percent, to $7.8 billion, fueled in part by improvements made to Meta’s advertising technology using artificial intelligence, as well as other product tweaks.
Meta’s improving finances are the second indication in two days that the online ad market, after a long slump brought on by a slowing economy, is showing signs of improvement. On Tuesday, Google’s parent company, Alphabet, also reported strong quarterly results, powered by ads for the Google search engine and renewed momentum for YouTube.
“We continue to see strong engagement across our apps, and we have the most exciting road map I’ve seen in a while,” Mark Zuckerberg, Meta’s chief executive, said in a statement. He also pointed to some of the company’s high points over the quarter, including the release of new A.I. technology and Meta’s answer to Twitter: Threads.
The results, which surpassed Wall Street’s expectations, were bolstered further by the company’s making more money from Reels, its TikTok-like video product inside Instagram, which Meta owns. More than 3.88 billion people each month had used one or more of Meta’s apps, which include Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and Facebook proper, in the most recent quarter, up 6 percent from a year earlier.
Analysts had expected a profit of $7.45 billion on sales of $31.1 billion, according to data compiled by FactSet. Shares of Meta rose 6 percent in after-hours trading on Wednesday.
In what Mr. Zuckerberg has called his “year of efficiency,” Meta has laid off more than 21,000 people. Mr. Zuckerberg has also tightened spending in some divisions, and flattened the hierarchy of an organization he has spent nearly two decades building.
Wall Street has appreciated the changes. Meta’s stock has more than tripled to nearly $300 a share, up from a low of $90.70 in November.
“Now that we’ve gotten through layoffs, the rest of 2023 will be about creating stability,” Mr. Zuckerberg said on a conference call with investors on Wednesday.
Threads, which was released this month, became the most rapidly downloaded app ever in less than a day. Though interest in the app had cooled in recent weeks, the positive response to it from internet users was a welcome change from the tepid consumer reaction to the virtual reality products that Mr. Zuckerberg had said were key to his company’s future.
Mr. Zuckerberg is also in a race to make advances in artificial intelligence technology. Meta had long invested in A.I. but was slow to show its technology until competitors like OpenAI and Google released A.I. chatbots. Last week, Meta released LLaMA 2, a powerful A.I. system that the company hopes developers will embrace.
Even as Meta’s revenues bounced back, the company said it planned to continue investing in the business. Meta said it expected its capital expenditures to rise in 2024, largely because of higher spending on infrastructure, such as servers and the powerful computers that undergird the company’s A.I. systems. Meta also anticipated that hiring costs would rise as the company tried to recruit more top A.I. talent, who rank among some of the highest-paid in the industry.
“Investments that we’ve made over the years in A.I. are clearly paying off,” Mr. Zuckerberg said, noting that the company’s A.I. systems have added to a 7 percent increase in time spent across the company’s platforms.
Susan Li, Meta’s chief financial officer, said A.I. helped advertisers better measure the performance of their ads, which had, in turn, increased how much money they spent on Meta’s ad products.
Instagram Reels also saw significant growth, the company said, though executives anticipate that it will take some time to make as much money from Reels as the company currently does from other products like Instagram Stories, as well as the lucrative ads in the main Instagram feed.
Mr. Zuckerberg has also reemphasized his commitment to the metaverse, the name used for virtual reality and from which the company derived its new name. The company shows no signs of slowing down spending on building the headsets running Meta’s augmented and virtual reality software, though it expects that the bet may take years to pay off. Meta’s Reality Labs division posted an operating loss of $3.7 billion for the quarter.
“I can’t guarantee you I’m going to be right about this bet,” Mr. Zuckerberg told investors on the conference call. “But I do think this is the direction the world is going in.”
“I do think we’re going to be happy that we did this,” he added.