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Facebook shares rise in buildup to mystery event, earnings

The Facebook logo is seen on a screen inside at the Nasdaq Marketsite in New York May 18, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The Facebook logo is seen on a screen inside at the Nasdaq Marketsite in New York May 18, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Shannon Stapleton

SAN FRANCISCO | Mon Jan 14, 2013 5:17pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Facebook Inc's stock opened on Monday above $32 for the first time since July as anticipation about upcoming products and financial results underscored Wall Street's renewed confidence in the online social network.

Facebook will on Tuesday host its first major press event at its headquarters in Menlo Park, California, since its troubled initial public offering in May, triggering a guessing game among technology observers and online blogs about what it could unveil - everything from a smartphone to a search engine.

"There's a lot of speculation. Nothing to me seems to be that certain," Jefferies & Co analyst Brian Pitz said.

"If I were to bet, I'd think it was something that was ad-platform related. I'm not convinced on the phone," said Pitz, citing previous comments by Facebook's leaders including CEO Mark Zuckerberg that making a smartphone would be the "wrong strategy" for Facebook.

In an email to reporters last week, Facebook invited the media to "come and see what we're building" without providing details.

Some analysts said the stock's recent gains - shares are up roughly 17 percent since the start of the year - may have more to do with the company's upcoming fourth-quarter financial results, slated for January 30.

"The stock is up because they have driven a dramatic increase in the ad load of their mobile app which is giving investors hope that they exceeded expectations," BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said.

Shares were down about 1.3 percent to $31.30 in mid-afternoon trading.

The world's No.1 social network with 1 billion users, Facebook became the first U.S. company to debut on stock markets with a value of more than $100 billion. Its value subsequently plunged by more than 50 percent on mounting concerns about slowing revenue growth and the challenges of making money as users shift from personal computers to mobile devices.

Facebook surprised Wall Street in the third quarter by announcing that mobile ads accounted for 14 percent of its total ad revenue. Some analysts expect the company to report further growth in its nascent mobile ad business for the fourth quarter.

Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook in his Harvard dorm room, has said that mobile is the "most misunderstood aspect" of Facebook. But he has repeatedly poured cold water on rumors that Facebook would build its own smartphone to compete against Apple Inc's iPhone and smartphones based on Google Inc's Android operating system.

During an on-stage interview at a conference in September, Zuckerberg said that he believed search could be a ripe area of growth for Facebook.

"Facebook is really uniquely positioned to answer a lot of the questions that people have," Zuckerberg said, such as finding a good restaurant or learning more about a job opportunity.

Still, many technology observers believe that Facebook is more likely to improve the search capabilities within Facebook than to develop a full-fledged search engine that indexes all the Web's content and competes head-on with search leader Google.

Among the other items that technology blogs and analysts speculate might be unveiled on Tuesday were new standalone apps for Apple's iPad tablet, new features to display video ads and even a new wing of corporate headquarters.

Some cautioned that expectations of a game-changing new product were likely to cause disappointment.

"There's no way they're announcing anything that has financial impact, or they wouldn't do it now, they'd wait two weeks," said Wedbush Securities analyst Michael Pachter, citing Facebook's upcoming earnings.

"Why would you announce something that has a financial impact during the quiet period?," he said.

(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Paul Simao)

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