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Facebook has never been stronger since IPO, Sandberg says

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, speaks during Reuters Global Technology Summit in San Francisco, June 19, 2013. REUTER
Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer of Facebook, speaks during Reuters Global Technology Summit in San Francisco, June 19, 2013. REUTER

By Alexei Oreskovic

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A year after Facebook Inc's fumbled IPO, Wall Street remains slow to recognize what Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg argues has been an across-the-board improvement in its business.

Facebook's ability to deliver ads to mobile phones, improvements in measuring the effectiveness of its ads and increasing user engagement have all put the world's largest social network in a better position than before the IPO, Sandberg told the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Wednesday.

"When I look back at the last year since we went public, I believe we are unequivocally a much stronger company today than we were on literally any metric I can think of," Sandberg said at the Reuters Global Technology Summit on Wednesday.

Facebook became the first U.S. technology company to debut with a value of more than $100 billion, in May 2012. Its shares have lost almost 40 percent of their value since.

"I can't speak to the stock price but I do feel strongly that we are a better positioned, stronger company than we were a year ago," she said.

With 1.1 billion users, Facebook is one of the Web's most popular destinations for consumers and advertisers. But growth in the company's revenue has slowed sharply from two years ago and some investors fret that a new crop of mobile apps aimed at younger users could chip away at Facebook's hold on consumers.

Analysts also wonder if the company's depressed share price could dampen morale and hamper its ability to attract talent in Silicon Valley's ultra-competitive talent arena.

"I don't think it's actually had a huge impact," the ex-Google Inc executive said, adding that while there had been some worries in the company about it, she was less worried as she had been through it before.

The cool investor reception to Facebook and other recent consumer dotcom debutantes from Groupon to Zynga has helped chill the Silicon Valley IPO train.

"If you miss in the first six months of being a public company, you're in the penalty box for a very long time," Sequoia partner Roelof Botha said at a panel about the fate of Silicon Valley public offerings.

"If you beat too much, you're an idiot because you should have forecast higher.

OLD AND NEW

Under co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook's new mission is to carve out a dominant position in smartphones and tablets to keep up with shifting consumer habits.

The company's mobile ads, which appear directly in users' newsfeeds and now account for 30 percent of Facebook's overall ad revenue, command higher prices than its previous PC ads and are tougher for competitors to replicate, Sandberg said.

It has recently introduced new features that have been popularized on rival service Twitter, such as verified user accounts and "hashtags," which make it easier for users to follow activity on the social network.

Within the last year, Facebook made its largest acquisition ever, paying about $700 million for Instagram. Sandberg said the company was in no hurry to generate revenue from the mobile photo-sharing app.

Facebook will at some point monetize the popular picture-postings service, Sandberg said. But for the near term "we all think it makes a lot of sense for Instagram to be focused on growth" in users.

Another untapped opportunity is China. Facebook remained interested in offering its service in the world's largest Internet market, where the social network is banned.

"It's an ongoing conversation with the government. At the end of the day it's their choice," she said. Sitting on the sidelines too long did not mean Facebook would cede the market to local competitors, she insisted.

"We were not the first entrants in our space to any market I'm aware of. There were markets like Brazil where Orkut had huge penetration, we're now over 80 percent penetrated into the Internet population," Sandberg said.

Sandberg, 43, joined Facebook as chief operating officer in 2008, overseeing business operations and transforming the fast-growing social network into a multi-billion company, while Zuckerberg focused on product strategy.

A former Google sales executive who also served as chief of staff to former U.S. Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, Sandberg is credited with bringing valuable business experience and organizational discipline to the company.

With her new book, Lean In, currently the No.2 bestseller in the New York Times hardcover non-fiction list, some wonder whether Sandberg might be ready to take on a new challenge, perhaps in the world of politics.

She dismissed the notion of political aspirations, noting that she has already been in government and had no plans to leave Facebook.

Follow Reuters Summits on Twitter @Reuters_Summits

(For other news from Reuters Global Technology Summit, click on http://www.reuters.com/summit/Tech13)

(Editing by Edwin Chan, Ed Tobin and Edwina Gibbs)

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