Financial Performance

Accounting Change Boosts Facebook’s Earnings

Facebook recorded a full-year "windfall" of $934 million from a a change in the way companies account for stock payments to employees.
Matthew HellerFebruary 2, 2017
Accounting Change Boosts Facebook’s Earnings

Facebook’s earnings more than doubled in the fourth quarter, reflecting the tax benefit from a change in the way companies account for stock payments to employees.

The social-media giant reported that net income rose to $3.57 billion, up from $1.56 billion a year ago, while full-year 2016 earnings were $10.22 billion, up from $3.69 billion.

The accounting change resulted in a $934 million reduction in Facebook’s income-tax provision for the year, including $214 million in the fourth quarter.

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As The Wall Street Journal reports, the Financial Accounting Standards Board approved the change in an attempt to simplify companies’ accounting for employee stock payments. It is expected to increase the earnings of companies like Facebook that are heavy users of employee stock compensation.

Under the old FASB rule, the tax benefits that companies get when employees exercise their stock options were attributed to the company’s shareholder equity. The new rule allows companies to recognize them on the income statement immediately, reducing their provision for taxes and boosting net income.

The change also boosted Facebook’s retained earnings by $1.67 billion as of the beginning of 2016 and its operating cash flow.

“The opposite could also happen — a ‘tax deficiency’ that would lower earnings, if options expire unexercised — though almost all of the companies adopting the change so far have reported benefits,” the WSJ noted.

Those companies include Microsoft, which has reported that its excess tax benefits lowered its tax provision by $402 million for the fiscal year that ended in June. Alphabet said it recorded excess tax benefits of $211 million for the first quarter of 2016, when it adopted the change.

Facebook also reported $8.81 billion in revenue and $1.41 in earnings per share for the fourth quarter, blowing past analysts’ estimates of $8.51 billion in revenue and $1.31 in earnings. Revenue growth slowed to 51% from 56% but daily active users hit 1.23 billion, up 18% year-on-year, compared to 17% last quarter.

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