Instagram Could Bring in $14 Billion in Revenue This Year

Evan Niu, CFA, The Motley Fool

Facebook's (NASDAQ: FB) Instagram property generated an estimated $8 billion to $9 billion in revenue in 2018, but that figure could soar to $14 billion in 2019, according to fresh estimates from Jefferies. Facebook's growth is increasingly coming from the popular photo- and video-sharing site, as the core platform has seen growth decelerate. Jefferies analysts led by Brent Thill believe that Instagram can grow over 60% this year, while the Facebook platform's growth rate is expected to dip below 20% for the first time.

Jefferies' estimate is much higher than the $10.9 billion that eMarketer had previously expected Instagram to bring in for 2019.

Instagram Stories interface shown on three smartphones

Image source: Instagram.

Instagram could represent 20% of 2019 revenue

Instagram is the company's fourth billion-user platform, but it has much more financial potential than WhatsApp and Messenger, the two other billion-user platforms beyond Facebook, since messaging services are notoriously difficult to monetize with ads. With over a billion users, there are plenty of growth levers that Instagram can pull to juice its top line.

"We see upside to pricing, users, and impressions as Instagram continues to improve its advertising efforts across the entire advertising funnel," Jefferies analysts wrote. Facebook is also working on turning Instagram into an e-commerce platform, leveraging the visual nature of the service.

To put $14 billion into perspective, that would represent 20% of the $68.7 billion in 2019 revenue that the Street is currently modeling for. The company hasn't reported fourth-quarter earnings yet -- they're due out on Jan. 30 -- but 2018 revenue is expected to be around $55 billion, with Instagram revenue accounting for about 16% of that total.

Overall, Jefferies believes that Facebook's 2018 woes, in which the social networking giant was hounded by a seemingly never-ending string of scandals, have created a buying opportunity for patient investors. The company clearly still has "cleanup work" to do in order to rebuild its image, but the analysts don't see any indication that users and advertisers are abandoning the core platform. Facebook has over 6 million active advertisers across all of its services, COO Sheryl Sandberg said on the third-quarter earnings call.

Jefferies reiterated its buy rating and $180 price target on Facebook shares.

Still some uncertainty

Facebook shares were certainly battered in 2018, losing 25% of their value amid the controversies. Instagram was able to finish the year largely untouched by any major scandals, although co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger departed in September due to CEO Mark Zuckerberg's efforts to exert greater control over the service, which included more data-sharing between Facebook and Instagram.

"When you leave anything, there are obviously reasons for leaving," Systrom said in October. "No one ever leaves a job because everything's awesome, right?"

Zuck then named longtime lieutenant Adam Mosseri, a veteran product exec at Facebook, as Instagram's new CEO. A change in leadership does present some uncertainty in the company's most important growth platform, but hopefully Mosseri can lead Instagram to $14 billion in sales.

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Evan Niu, CFA owns shares of Facebook. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Facebook. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.