(Corrects analyst's affiliation in last paragraph to ThinkEquity instead of Kaufman Brothers)
SAN FRANCISCO - Investors have muted expectations for Google Inc's second-quarter results, as economic clouds and shifts in the company's strategy dampened hopes that it will beat Wall Street estimates.
At least three analysts have cut financial estimates for Google in the run up to its second-quarter earnings report due late Thursday.
There's no question that sentiment going into the quarter is much lower, said Cowen and Co analyst Jim Friedland.
With fears of a double-dip recession and ongoing worries about the European debt crisis, Wall Street is taking a cautious view on the Internet powerhouse, which counts Britain as one of its biggest overseas markets.
Google's future in China, where the company's license was recently renewed for one year, is also a concern for investors.
Analysts believe Google's core search advertising business continued to perform strongly during the second quarter, contributing to a more than 20 percent jump in net revenue.
But they will be looking for any weakness in Google's cost-per-click -- the price that Google charges advertisers for its search ads.
Investors will also focus on operating expenses and headcount after Google made eight acquisitions during the quarter in addition to the $700 million deal to acquire online travel software company ITA Software announced July 1.
...a large uptick in expenses could create concerns for investors looking for the company to maintain or increase margin in 2011, UBS analyst Brian Pitz wrote in a recent note to investors.
Google has beat Wall Street revenue expectations in five of the past seven quarters and exceeded profit estimates in each of the past seven. But its shares have sold off after its last two better-than-expected earnings reports when, analysts said, some investors' expectations of blow-out results were missed.
The average analyst expectation according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S calls for Google to generate net revenue -- which excludes costs that Google pays to partner websites -- of $4.99 billion in the second quarter, down roughly 1.4 percent from the first quarter, with earnings per share of $6.53.
Estimates from Thomson Reuters StarMine, which places more weight on recent forecasts by top-rated analysts, forecast revenue of $4.99 billion and a EPS of $6.57 - a relatively minor amount of upside by Google standards.
In previous quarters, when foreign exchange wasn't that big of an issue and macro conditions were relatively stable, all the checks (that analysts made with Google's customers) were coming out strong, so the numbers kept going up ahead of the quarter, said JMP Securities analyst Sameet Sinha.
Still, with shares now trading at much lower levels and second-quarter estimates having come down, JMP's Sinha says the stock is under less pressure to outperform on Thursday.
Google's stock is down roughly 22 percent from its 52-week high of $629.51, though shares have rallied more than 13 percent since the start of the month, closing at $491.34 on Wednesday.
Google is increasingly pitting itself against rivals beyond its usual competitors Yahoo Inc and Microsoft Corp, as it ventures into smartphone operating systems, mobile advertising and other areas.
Google completed its $750 million acquisition of mobile advertising firm AdMob in May, overcoming antitrust concerns and setting the stage for a battle with Apple Inc in the nascent market for advertising on smartphones. Apple began selling mobile ads to run on its iPhone at the start of July.
Internet social networking services like Facebook and Twitter have gained favor with websurfers, and mobile gadgets like the iPhone and its catalog of applications provide new ways for consumers to interact with content and advertising.
Meanwhile, Google's Android smartphone operating system software has continued to make headway. Roughly 160,000 smartphones featuring Android software are now shipped every day, up from the 60,000 units-per-day rate announced in February, Google said.
The company's plans to become an online phone retailer have fared less well, with Google pulling the plug on its effort to sell the Nexus One smartphone through its website in May.
And while Google shares got a bump earlier this month, after the company said its license to operate a website in mainland China had been renewed by the Chinese authorities, analysts question Google's business prospects in the world's largest Internet market by users.
ThinkEquity analyst Aaron Kessler said he hoped to get more clarity from management on the sustainability of Google's new tack of providing Chinese websurfers a link to an uncensored search site in Hong Kong, as well as details about changes in Google's market share and ad business there.
(Reporting by Alexei Oreskovic, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)