Facebook shares rise as Zuckerberg soothes investors

(Reuters) – Shares of Facebook Inc rose as much as 4.2 percent on Thursday, after Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg said the social network had not seen any meaningful impact on usage or ad sales in the wake of a data privacy scandal.

FILE PHOTO: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, appears on stage during a town hall at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo

The company’s shares have sunk 16 percent, wiping more than $80 billion from its market value since March 16, when the New York Times and London’s Observer newspaper broke news of the use of its data by political consultancy Cambridge Analytica.

Data from Evercore ISI analysts confirmed Zuckerberg’s claim, with Facebook having the top four most downloaded apps globally in March across more than 40 applications tracked in Android and iOS app stores.

Also, Facebook’s social app downloads improved on a monthly basis both in the U.S. and globally, according to the data. Facebook expanded its share of social app downloads in March by 33.2 percent from 30.1 percent.

Several Wall Street analysts said the stock decline presented a good opportunity to buy into the social network’s previously high-flying shares, although they cautioned that much will still depend on Zuckerberg’s testimony to Congress next week.

“We suspect that looking back a year from now, if not sooner, this episode will have been a uniquely compelling buying opportunity in the mega cap internet space,” Deutsche Bank analysts said.

The data scandal led to the “DeleteFacebook” hashtag trending on Twitter and several celebrities including singer Cher, actor Will Ferrell and Tesla Chief Elon Musk deleted their accounts.

Companies also chimed in with U.S. auto parts retailer Pep Boys, internet company Mozilla and German bank Commerzbank AG suspending advertisement on the platform.

Zuckerberg said on Wednesday he accepted blame for the data leak and should have done more to audit and oversee third-party app developers like the one that Cambridge Analytica hired in 2014.

He will testify about the matter next Tuesday and Wednesday during U.S. congressional hearings.

“While it’s clear that investor sentiment has been materially impacted by (the) Cambridge Analytica revelations, we believe FB is acting proactively and aggressively to tighten its privacy controls and increase the level of transparency into its practices,” Wells Fargo analyst Ken Sena said.

Facebook shares were up 2.6 percent at $159.23 in morning trade on Thursday.

Reporting by Supantha Mukherjee and Sonam Rai in Bengaluru; editing by Patrick Graham, Bernard Orr

Tagged ,