Shares in Meta – the owner of Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram – fell sharply after it announced higher than expected spending on artificial intelligence (AI).

They went down more than 15% in after-hours trading in New York despite the tech giant revealing strong earnings figures.

Boss Mark Zuckerberg said it would take some time before its huge AI investment increased revenues.

Meta also said its X rival, Threads, now has more than 150 million monthly active users, increasing the pressure on the Elon Musk-owned platform.

“Threads is well on its way to beating X by becoming the Twitter alternative users and advertisers are longing for,” said Mike Proulx, from analysts Forrester.

He also said Meta stood to gain from TikTok’s possible sale or ban in the US – a development the app has vowed to fight.

AI features

Meta has been updating its ad-buying products with AI tools to boost earnings growth.

It has also been introducing more AI features on its social media platforms such as chat assistants.

The firm said it now expected to spend between $35bn and $40bn, (£28bn-32bn) in 2024, up from an earlier prediction of $30-$37bn.

For investors, that outweighed the positive news on earnings.

First quarter revenue rose 27% to $36.46bn, while analysts had expected earnings of $36.16bn.

Analysts though said there was a logic to Meta’s approach.

Sophie Lund-Yates, from Hargreaves Lansdown, said Meta’s “substantial investment” in AI has helped it get people to spend time on its platforms, so advertisers were willing to spend more money “in a time when digital advertising uncertainty remains rife”.

More than 50 countries are due to have elections this year, she said, “which hugely increases uncertainty” and can spook advertisers.

Ms Lund-Yates said that “looking further ahead, the biggest risk [for Meta] remains regulatory”.

Last year, Meta was fined €1.2bn (£1bn) by Ireland’s data authorities for mishandling people’s data when transferring it between Europe and the US.

And in February of this year, Meta chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced blistering criticism from US lawmakers and was pushed to apologise to families of victims of child sexual exploitation.

Ms Lund-Yates added that the firm has “more than enough resources to throw at legal challenges, but that doesn’t rule out the risks of ups and downs in market sentiment”.

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