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Facebook's quarterly profit, revenue beat estimates

The Facebook logo is displayed on their website in an illustration photo taken in Bordeaux, France, February 1, 2017. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

By Rishika Sadam and David Ingram

(Reuters) - Facebook Inc (FB.O) shares rose more than 2 percent in after-hours trading on Wednesday as the world's largest online social network reported higher-than-expected quarterly profit and revenue, helped by continued growth in mobile advertising.

The results offered some reassurance to investors who have been concerned since the company warned in November that ad growth would likely slow "meaningfully" due to limits on ad load - the total number of ads Facebook can show to each user.

Facebook has faced doubts about whether it can continue its runaway success in the face of such limits, as well as its absence from the Chinese market and criticism about its handling of so-called "fake news" posts during last year's U.S. election.

The company suffered a slight setback just before the market close when a jury in Texas ordered Facebook, its virtual reality unit Oculus, and other defendants to pay a combined $500 million to ZeniMax Media Inc, a video game publisher that says Oculus stole its technology.

Facebook shares were up 2.4 percent at $136.44 after the bell on Wednesday.

Mobile ad revenue accounted for 84 percent of the company's total advertising revenue of $8.63 billion in the fourth quarter that ended Dec. 31, compared with 80 percent a year earlier.

Analysts on average had expected total ad revenue of $8.31 billion, according to research firm FactSet StreetAccount.

The company inched closer to reaching 2 billion users, saying that about 1.86 billion people were using its service monthly as of Dec. 31, up 17 percent from a year earlier.

Mobile daily active users rose 23 percent to 1.15 billion, the company said. About 90 percent of Facebook's users access the network through mobile devices.

However, many analysts have raised concerns about Facebook's ability to meet its own targets it sets every quarter.

"I think the rate of growth will decline, but it will remain very high," said analyst Michael Pachter of Wedbush Securities. "They grew 57 percent in 2016, and our current model has 'only' 38 percent revenue growth in 2017. That's still pretty impressive."

Pachter said he expects Facebook to appeal Wednesday's jury verdict in Texas, but that the result would not affect the share price even if the company loses. "Even if Facebook has to pay $300 million, it's less than $0.10 per share and they have $29.5 billion in cash," he said.

Apart from the core Facebook network, which contributes the lion's share to overall revenue, the company's photo-sharing app Instagram and messaging service WhatsApp also have huge user bases.

Facebook has been adding features to attract more users and retain those already on the network, with a feature to tackle fake news posts being the most recent addition, after the criticism that followed the U.S. election on Nov. 8.

Facebook is expected to generate about $29.71 billion in mobile ad revenue in 2017, according to research firm eMarketer, up about 35.2 percent from 2016.

Net income attributable to Facebook shareholders rose to $3.56 billion, or $1.21 per share, from $1.56 billion, or 54 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, the company earned $1.41 per share.

Total revenue rose to $8.81 billion from $5.84 billion.

Analysts on average had expected a profit of $1.31 per share on revenue of $8.51 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

(Reporting by Rishika Sadam in Bengaluru and David Ingram in New York; Editing by Saumyadeb Chakrabarty and Bill Rigby)