The inaugural dividend for investors in the social media giant, Meta Platforms Inc., could result in Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg receiving an annual payout of approximately $700 million. On Thursday, the company announced a quarterly cash dividend of 50 cents a share for Class A and B common stock beginning in March. With Zuckerberg holding about 350 million shares, he would take home about $175 million in each quarterly payment before taxes, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
The move signals the company’s perspective on growth potential. Rapidly expanding tech firms often skip dividend payments to reinvest earnings into product development or high-priced acquisitions. Meta is spending heavily on artificial intelligence initiatives, but regulatory challenges have limited its ability to make significant acquisitions.
Profits from the three months ended in December rose more than 200% to $14 billion, exceeding Wall Street analysts’ estimates. Digital advertising sales accounted for most of the income, rising 25% from the year-ago period to more than $40 billion. The Reality Labs division surpassed $1 billion in revenue for the first time, reflecting more robust sales of its latest virtual reality headset.
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The solid results and dividend initiation sent Meta’s stock surging, with shares up 109.1% in the past 12 months, outpacing the S&P 500’s 17.4% gain. Meta’s ad-sales gains helped it meet or exceed its guidance for the first quarter. However, it said it was difficult to predict performance for the rest of the year because of European political events and regulatory pressure in the United States.
Amid the strong results, Meta also announced that it was adjusting some of its reporting practices to reflect its business better. It will no longer report daily and monthly active users and instead focus on advertising impressions and prices. It will also focus on local ad sales and reporting revenue by region, which it says will be more helpful for investors to understand its business.
It was the fourth quarter of positive financial results for Meta, which has attributed much of its recent success to its self-described “year of efficiency.” Last year, the company laid off about 21,000 employees and narrowed its focus to reduce costs and boost profitability. The results have paid off — the company’s stock almost tripled in value in 2023. Introducing a dividend and an extra $50 billion for share buybacks, which were announced alongside Thursday’s favorable result, might encourage more patience from investors, supporting Zuckerberg’s long-term bets on artificial intelligence and the metaverse.
The company’s dividend announcement marks the first time it has distributed one since its initial public offering in 2021. Meta joins companies like Apple Inc., Nvidia Corp., and Microsoft Corp. that pay a regular dividend, although its yield of 0.51% is substantially lower than the 1.25% dividends offered by those companies. That’s because those companies are much larger, with a market capitalization that dwarfs that of Meta.