Meta’s stock plunges 15% on ‘aggressive’ AI spending plans

InvestingApr 29, 2024

Meta headquarters pictured on February 02, 2023 in Menlo Park, California. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
LondonCNN — Shares in Meta plunged Thursday, as the Facebook owner’s plans to “invest aggressively” in artificial intelligence spooked investors.

The stock fell as much as 15% to $421.40 when the Nasdaq opened, wiping $183 billion off its market value. The selloff, which started in after-hours trade Wednesday, came as investors looked beyond bumper first-quarter earnings to focus on the huge costs to the company of building an AI future.

Meta (META) is competing head-to-head with Microsoft and Google to unlock the enormous potential of AI. While the payoffs could be huge, the company’s most recent earnings underscored that building the best tools is costly and will take time.

Meta, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, said Wednesday that first-quarter profit more than doubled year-on-year, while revenue was up 27%. But an increase of as much as $5 billion in projected AI investments — and the likelihood of further increases in subsequent years — made shareholders uneasy.

“The language around spending plans has become bolder once more, and this could be what’s spooking markets,” Sophie Lund-Yates, lead equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, wrote in a note Thursday.

“For all Meta’s bold AI plans, it can’t afford to take its eye off the nucleus of the business — its core advertising activities… Meta’s resources are vast but not infinite, and its digital advertising market share needs defending at all costs,” she added.

Meta said full-year capital expenditure would be in the range of $35-40 billion — up from previous guidance of $30-37 billion — as it continues to accelerate infrastructure investments to support AI.

“We expect capital expenditures will continue to increase next year as we invest aggressively to support our ambitious AI research and product development efforts,” the company added in a statement.

On a call with investors, CEO Mark Zuckerberg focused most of his comments on AI. He said Meta wants to be “the leading AI company in the world” and “should invest significantly more over the coming years to build even more advanced models.”

Meta would increase spending “meaningfully before we make much revenue from some of these new products… On the upside, once our new AI services reach scale, we have a strong track record of monetizing them effectively,” he added.

Weaker than expected guidance for the current quarter may also be weighing on the stock. Meta has forecast revenue of $36.5-39 billion, versus analyst expectations of $38.2 billion.

“A slightly lower revenue forecast than anticipated contributed to investor concerns about the company’s future performance,” said Stephen Innes, managing partner at SPI Asset Management.

Analysts at JP Morgan on Thursday cut their December 2024 price target for the stock to $480 from $580.

This article has been updated after the market opened.

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