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Facebook stock soars on positive numbers and aggressive spin from execs

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The company finally seems to be speaking Wall Street's language


Facebook's stock is over 11 percent up two hours after the release of an overall positive quarterly report followed by an aggressive pitch by its top three executives. On a call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg made a noticeable effort to pander to the Wall Street crowd with a gusto that has been missing in the past.

Zuckerberg opened by declaring that the fundamentals of Facebook's economy are strong, its vision is clear, and monetization on mobile was slow because "we hadn't started trying yet." While the CEO has snubbed Wall Street in the past by skipping meetings or showing up in a hoodie, today he seemed eager to please. The CEO preempted investor skepticism by immediately addressing Wall Street's pet gripes, namely Facebook's mobile strategy and its close link with its floundering partner Zynga.

"Our opportunity on mobile is the most misunderstood aspect of Facebook today," Zuckerberg said. "I wanted to dispel this myth that Facebook can't make money on mobile." Investors had speculated that fast-growing mobile usage, which generates lower revenues, could spell trouble for the social network.

"The business question becomes, how much money we can make from that time?"

On the contrary, Zuckerberg said, countering that increasing mobile usage will allow Facebook to reach more users, more frequently. Mobile users log in more often, and provide the opportunity for more clever mobile-native revenue strategies. "The business question becomes, how much money we can make from that time?" the young CEO said, sounding very far away from the detached undergrad who was "content to make something cool."

He bragged that Facebook had restructured so that each product group was responsible for creating their own monetization strategy, which has resulted in innovative, "higher quality monetization" in which the money-making aspect is "deeply integrated into the experience, rather than off to the side." As evidence, he pointed to Facebook's third quarter mobile revenues, which accounted for 14 percent of advertising revenue, and its successful acquisition of Instagram. He also noted that new Mobile App Install Ads will bring in money from mobile developers seeking distribution.

Zuckerberg followed this defense up with another debunking. "I want to talk specifically about games for a bit, because I think the story here is a little misunderstood as well," he said.

"Overall, gaming on Facebook isn't doing as well as I'd like," he admitted, noting that revenue from Zynga was down 20 percent. He then proceeded to distance Facebook from the gaming company, claiming that "the reality is that there are actually two different stories playing out here... the rest of the games ecosystem has actually been growing." Monthly revenue from games payments outside Zynga increased 40 percent, he noted. "This evolution is pretty encouraging."

Investors seem to be responding warmly to the new Facebook narrative

During the rest of the call, Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg and CFO David Ebersman talked up the company's success with mobile efforts, new products, and advertising metrics, leaning in particular on one study of offline purchases that showed that Facebook ads "drive sales and ring cash registers."

Investors seem to be responding warmly to the new Facebook narrative, even though its actual earnings came in only slightly better than analyst expectations. Less than two hours after the call, the stock was at $21.87 and rising in after-hours trading, way up from the day's high of $19.80.