Mark Zuckerberg may have been feeling vindicated on Wednesday.
After what’s been a horrible year for his company’s reputation, Facebook surprised Wall Street by posting record profits for its fourth quarter, and revenues that beat expectations.
The company reported earnings per share of $2.38, up from the $1.44 it reported a year earlier and also ahead of forecasts for $2.17. Net earnings for the quarter totalled $6.9 billion.
The company’s shares were up more than 8% to $162.3 in after-hours trading in New York, which will come as some relief to investors—Facebook’s stock has declined by roughly 30% in the past six months.
“We’ve fundamentally changed how we run this company,” Zuckerberg said on an earnings call, adding that Facebook had invested “billions of dollars in security.”
Wednesday’s results were in strong contrast to the flurry of criticism levelled at the company recently around its privacy practices, including from tech giant Apple. This week the iPhone maker blocked Facebook from distributing internal iOS apps that its staff used for testing new services, a major shot across the bow in what’s becoming a tense battle over privacy standards.
But none of that seems to matter to Wall Street right now. Not only is Facebook’s bottom line rising, its user base is still growing too, countering much of the recent discourse about an exodus of users from the platform.
The company said Wednesday that 2.32 billion people were active each month across its platforms, including WhatsApp and Instagram, versus 2.27 billion the previous quarter.
The number of people using Facebook daily was up 9% from last year to 1.52 billion, led by growth in India, Indonesia and the Philippines, the company’s chief financial officer David Wehner said on an earnings call on Wednesday.
Wehner also sought to downplay the impact of critical press articles over the past year on Facebook’s business and growth. “I’d let the numbers stand for themselves,’ he said. “We are growing in all regions.”
Zuckerberg said that the Stories feature on Facebook and Instagram would be where some of the greatest potential lay for generating more advertising dollars, by also using artificial intelligence-powered software to target Facebook users more accurately. “Stories on FB is growing quickly,” he said, though he also admitted, “We started a bit later and execution wasn’t as great as it needed to be.”
Wehner evaded a question on the earnings call about how much time people spent on Facebook versus Instagram, sidestepping concerns that its flagship network is falling out of favor.
“The daily active user trends that we’re giving do paint the picture, which is stability in the developed markets and growth for Facebook Blue in developing markets,” Wehner said. “Time spent is not our focus, and our focus is meaningful social interactions. Daily active user trends tell the story broadly.”
Advertisers, however, tend to spend more money on targeting users in developed markets, so even while signups to Facebook are growing in developing markets and even in the U.S., there may still be some concerns about return on investment if users in North America and Europe are spending only fleeting moments on the site. For now though, investors seem pleased enough with the growth numbers and the revenue beat.
–Parmy Olson Forbes Staff
Mysterious Object Under Moon’s Largest Crater Found By Scientists
An unknown, mysterious mass has been found beneath a crater on the moon, according to researchers at Baylor University—and it may give scientists clues into how the moon was shaped.
- Researchers discovered an unknown anomaly roughly five times the size of Hawaii’s largest island.
- The mass is sitting beneath one of the largest preserved craters in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin.
- A plausible guess by scientists: The mass is a piece of metal left behind nearly 4 million years ago by the asteroid that formed the crater.
The mysterious mass sits more than 300 km (186 miles) underneath the solar system’s largest crater. The crater isn’t visible to the naked eye because it’s on the far side of the moon, which always faces away from Earth.
While the researchers who discovered the mass don’t know what it is or where it came from, computer simulations suggest that, under the right conditions, a large asteroid’s iron-nickel core could have been embedded inside the moon upon impact almost 4 million years ago.
Another possibility, according to researchers, is that the mass consists of oxides left over from when the moon was changing from a large ocean of molten magma to what it is today.
-Rachel Sandler; Forbes Staff
Why Mitsubishi Heavy May Want Bombardier’s Money-Losing CRJ Regional Jet Line
Bombardier may be close to completing its exit from the airliner business, confirming Wednesday morning that it’s holding talks with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to sell its once-mighty CRJ regional jet line. For Mitsubishi Heavy, which has struggled to make the climb from an aircraft component supplier to a jet maker, the deal may be less about the money-losing CRJ than acquiring its extensive service network.
Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy is years behind schedule on the MRJ, a twin-engine regional jet that was initially expected to be launched in 2013 with Japanese airline ANA. With certification of the 90-seat version believed to be on track for 2020, acquiring the competing CRJ program would solve the knottiest remaining problem for Mitsubishi: product support and maintenance, says Richard Aboulafia, an aerospace analyst with Teal Group. “They have no experience at that, and no infrastructure,” he says.
The sale talks were first reported by The Air Current.
Montreal-based Bombardier created the regional jet market in 1989 when it launched the CRJ, which was a stretched, 50-seat version of the Challenger business jet that it had acquired a few years prior when it first got into aerospace by buying the struggling aircraft maker Canadair from the Canadian government. With jet fuel cheap in the 1990s, U.S. airlines snapped up the CRJ to replace propeller-driven planes on short-haul routes serving smaller cities. Bombardier has sold 1,950 CRJs, but sales slowed in the early 2000s as oil prices climbed and airline consolidation shrank route networks.
Bombardier had 51 outstanding orders for the aging airframe as of March 31, a backlog that should be worked through by 2020. Bombardier refreshed the CRJ in recent years with a new cabin design, but its seventies-vintage General Electric engines are inefficient by modern standards, and it’s not clear if the plane could be retrofitted with newer ones.
What’s kept sales trickling along has been the persistence of so-called “scope clauses” in U.S. airlines’ labor contracts with their pilots, which restrict the major carriers from contracting with regional airlines for flights of planes above 76 seats and a maximum takeoff weight of 86,000 pounds. With the MRJ, Mitsubishi made a losing bet that the scope clauses would be relaxed by the time it came into service: the MRJ90 is too big to be used in the U.S. now. Embraer made the same miscalculation with its new E2 regional jet line.
Mitsubishi has been working on a 70-seat version, but that project is reportedly going through a redesign that could delay it until 2023.
United and Delta pilots are negotiating new contracts, and American and Southwest’s agreements are up in 2020, but it’s unclear whether the airlines will be able to win relaxation of the scope clause restrictions.
It’s also unclear whether Mitsubishi would want to keep producing the CRJ, scope clauses or no, given its unprofitability. The company could choose to fulfill current orders and wind it down, says Aboulafia.
Beyond the CRJ maintenance network, Mitsubishi could benefit from adding experienced engineers from the Bombardier program who could aid in developing the MRJ and in the complicated regulatory certification process.
Bombardier filed a lawsuit against Mitsubishi in October, alleging that former Bombardier employees had supplied it with trade secrets that would help the MRJ gain certification.
A sale of the CRJ line would be the sunset of an era of ambition for Bombardier, a snowmobile maker that expanded into rail in the 1970s and aviation in the 1980s with a series of acquisitions, but stumbled badly earlier this decade with an attempt to challenge Airbus and Boeing by developing a 100- to 130-seat jet, the CSeries, that almost bankrupted the company.
CEO Alain Bellemare, who came aboard in 2015, has sold off assets and raised new debt and equity to pare Bombardier’s heavy debt load, aiming to slim the company down to its strongholds in business jets and trains.
In 2018, Bombardier gave away a majority share in the CSeries to Airbus, which has rebranded it the A220. Airbus has the option to buy full control in 2025. This week Bombardier closed the sale of its Q Series regional turboprop line to Longview Capital, and last month it announced that it would sell an aerostructures factory in Morocco and its Northern Ireland unit, which developed innovative composite resin technology used to make the wings for the A220.
For the CRJ program, Bombardier could fetch a similar price to its sale of the Q Series, which netted $250 million, says analyst Christopher Murray of AltaCorp Capital, and a deal could allow it to offload other contingent liabilities.
Bombardier shares rose 8.9% Wednesday morning to 2.14 Canadian dollars on the Toronto Stock Exchange. The stock tumbled 20% in late April after the company cut its 2019 sales and profit outlook due to delays and quality issues on multiple contracts at its rail unit. Bombardier said during its first-quarter earnings call last month that it would no longer commit to previously announced financial goals for 2020, including raising sales to $20 billion.
-Jeremy Bogaisky;Forbes Staff
A Tale Of Two Presidents And One Phone Call To Freedom
A month before South Africa’s elections, one of the country’s leading political figures exposed a number of his former comrades for corruption with evidence to the Zondo Commission on State Capture. It was box office material, yet just another eventful period in the turbulent life of Robert McBride – guerrilla fighter, policeman and death row prisoner.
Robert McBride has one of those faces full of character that looks like it has endured life as much as lived it. A glance through his tough years of struggle yields a list of reasons why: five years on death row to screams and tears of the condemned; scores of beatings over decades; shooting his way out of hospital; years of the shadowy and violent life of an underground guerrilla fighter.
McBride was born in Wentworth, just outside Durban, in 1963, and grew up amid racist insults and violence. It swiftly politicised him and he was taken into the military wing of the African National Congress where he carried out sabotage with explosives.
Even by the standards of the desperate days of the gun in South Africa, McBride’s political activity is remarkable. In 1986, McBride fought his way out of an intensive care ward in a bizarre rescue of his childhood friend and fellow fighter Gordon Webster. It happened at Edendale Hospital in Durban where Webster lay, with tubes in his body, under police guard.
McBride posed as a doctor, with an AK47 hidden in his white coat; his father, Derrick, was dressed as a priest with a Makarov pistol under his cassock. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission heard, in 1999, that hospital staff cheered them on and held back an armed policeman as the McBrides shot their way out, pushing the wounded Webster to freedom on a trolley.
Thirty-three-years on, McBride went into battle again for his beliefs, this time with words and documents, against a more insidious and formidable foe than armed police – corruption. He gave evidence before the Zondo Commission, in Johannesburg, springing from his days as head of IPID, the independent police investigators.
He spent more than four days on the stand – longer than most cricket matches last these days. He told of missing police evidence, claims of sinister moves to remove corruption busters and the misappropriation of money, under a cloak of secrecy, by the crime intelligence agencies.
“People don’t like me because of my anti-corruption stance, their dislike of me I wear as a badge of honour. Those who dislike me for other reasons, it is a free country and you are entitled to your likes and dislikes. I have no problem with you. But wherever I am, I will do my work and will always be against corruption. I understand how corruption affects the ordinary man and means there is so much less to go around,” he says.
To give a little more context, McBride’s erstwhile job went with unpopularity. The head of IPID is a post that politicians, plus probably more than a few disgruntled policemen, wanted him out of. They ended his contract and he assures me he is going to court to get his job back. His stance may give clues as to why some wanted to see the back of him.
“I have spoken loudly every time I have seen something wrong and raised unpopular issues. Some of the issues we picked up early on was police involvement in cash-in-transit robberies… The looting of police funds, the corruption, the wastage and the leverage, we then began to understand it; the leverage that some policeman have over politicians… Any criminal syndicate that is operating requires police to help them otherwise they will be found out in the normal course of events,” says McBride, the month before the hearing.
“Rogue activity by certain elements in the prosecuting authority, the willingness to prosecute people for non-criminal acts and unwillingness to prosecute when there is a pile of evidence…We will also speak about the abuse of state funds, the abuse of power by the police by negating investigations. Most of our evidence is backed up by court papers, evidence and affidavits,” he says.
Many activists who saw the nasty, ugly, side of the struggle often are the first to come down, hard, when they feel freedoms they fought for are being abused. You could argue McBride, an intelligent thinker, is very much one of them.
You could also argue that McBride has been cut adrift by many former comrades and demonized as the Magoo’s Bar bomber – the 1986 car bomb on the Durban beachfront that killed three and wounded scores. Others, on both sides of the South African struggle, who issued orders, or did worse, are undisturbed and anonymous by their swimming pools. Any regrets? I ask.
“It’s like asking me ‘do I regret living in a free and democratic country’, the answer can’t be yes… We would have preferred that things went differently. If you are in an armed struggle, you are the cause of hurt to other people and as a political activist, as a revolutionary you can defend that and justify it.
“But as a human being, you know that when it concerns other people, it is not the right thing to do to cause the hurt of other people. I have expressed myself as a human being on this, not because I was trying to elicit any sympathy or anything; I have never asked for redemption, I have never asked for forgiveness. Those who know me know what I am about and those who understand the circumstances in the early 1980s when we became active; those who are old enough to remember that was what the circumstances were.”
Those circumstances recede further into the darkness of memory of democratic South Africa every year, yet, in the minds of those who suffered, it stays pin sharp. McBride spent five years on death row, in Pretoria, after being sentenced to the gallows for the Durban bombings.
He reckons the prison hanged more than 300 prisoners in this time. Through the cell door, he heard the condemned screaming and crying as warders dragged the condemned along the passages to their fate. The hanging warders used to bring back the bloody hoods from the gallows and force the next batch of condemned men to wash them.
In May 1990, the sun shone as hope visited death row in Pretoria. The prison management summoned McBride and a group of fellow condemned activists, to the main office at the maximum security prison. Each were given green prison jackets – the garb of special occasions. Warders drove them, in a van, to a distant part of the prison and all feared they were either going to be executed or allowed to escape and shot in the back.
“We were told not to talk and then we were put in this big room with a steel of security around the room and after about 45 minutes the former president (Mandela) walked in and it was the most beautiful sight on earth; the greatest feeling ever and when he walks in, he says: ‘Ah, Robert! How are you!’ As if he knew me forever. It was the most important meeting I had in my life. It was like a God-like environment. He gave us a rundown of negotiations and what can be expected and that we must not worry, we must be patient and sit tight, he knows all of our backgrounds and will do his utmost to get us released and we will never be forgotten.”
It took more than two more years, in the shadow of the noose… until a fateful Friday. September 25, 1992. McBride will never forget the date.
“Round about half past four in the afternoon, I got a call to come to the office, I didn’t know what it was about, and when I came there, the head of the prison said: ‘You have a phone call’. It was my first phone call in prison. On the other end of the line was comrade Cyril Ramaphosa and he says: ‘Hi chief’. I keep quiet and then he says: ‘Monday’. I say: ‘What’s happening Monday chief?’ He keeps quiet, then he says: ‘You are going home!’ There was a bit of a smile you could feel in his voice,” says McBride with a huge smile on his face.
Long after Mandela had completed his long walk to freedom for his country, McBride was to yet again hear the click of a prison key and feel the pain from a warder’s boot.
It was the summer of 1998 and in Maputo, the sea was warm and the prawns were hot. The police in Mozambique picked up McBride, then a high-ranking official in foreign affairs, on alleged gun running charges that appeared to be trumped up to us journalists. We scoured the streets of the capital, for weeks, in search of witnesses.
McBride argued that he was on an undercover operation for the National Intelligence Agency trying to uncover gun runners who were flooding neighbouring South Africa with illegal weapons and fuelling crime; a counter that eventually set him free.
Despite this, McBride spent six months in the capital’s notorious, grim, Machava maximum security prison, where he told me violence was meted out.
I covered that story for many months and came within a split ace of interviewing McBride in his cell. We spent hours plying the Portuguese-speaking warders with beer and the story, through an interpreter, that we were friends visiting from South Africa and we just wanted to say hello. We told them our friend was a big man in South Africa.
“He is a small man now,” smiled back one of the warders icily.
We convinced the guards and as they moved towards the prison doors, keys in hand, our cover was blown. One of the not too bright colleagues from our TV station strolled into the prison waving his press card.
“Hello Chris!” says he. The none-too-pleased prison guards threw us out.
I had to wait more than 20 years for my interview with McBride.
A phrase I always remembered from those many hot, crazy, days in Maputo was a quote we got from the late presidential spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa when McBride went behind bars yet again.
“He is a tough guy who can look after himself,” said Mamoepa.
The Zondo Commission and scores of corrupt policemen last month found out how tough.
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