Earnings Preview: Google’s 1Q Report To Answer Growth Concerns

 @DavidZie
on April 10 2012 10:12 PM
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When Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the most popular search engine, announces first-quarter results after Thursday's market close, the biggest question will be about overall revenue.

Last quarter, Google's traffic was lighter than expected. Revenue rose only 25 percent to $10.58 billion, about $300 million below estimates.

The miss also clipped earnings. The result caused shares of the Mountain View, Calif., search, media and information giant to swoon. They fell 8.4 percent on Jan. 20, to close at $585.99.

Since then they've regained ground, closing on Tuesday at $626.86, down $3.98, or about 0.6 percent. In the past 52 weeks, Google shares have gained 8.4 percent.

Here are some key guideposts:

The actual results. Analysts surveyed by FactSet expect earnings around $9.64 a share on operations, or net income around $8.23 a share, on revenue ranging between $8.09 and $8.13 billion, up about 17 percent.

In the year-earlier quarter, Google reported operating income of $8.08 a share on revenue of $8.58 billion, before special items including a one-time charge of $500 million to settle a case with the U.S. Department of Justice, as well as charges for ad commissions that trimmed revenue to $6.54 billion.

Google, which built its reputation on the desktop, now contends with smaller screens on smartphones, which may generate fewer ad clicks, lowering ad revenue.

State of the Motorola Deal.  To get more clicks and compete with Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), Google last August agreed to acquire smartphone maker Motorola Mobility Holdings (NYSE: MMI) for $12.5 billion.

The deal has been approved by all regulators except those in China. Co-founder and CEO Larry Page, 39, will be asked about its status, as well as plans to retain or spin off the set-top box unit, which came from the acquisition of General Instruments in 1999, for $11 billion.

Keeping the unit, which sells to the cable TV sector, could bolster Google's forthcoming Google TV service, intended to battle a rival from Apple.

Also, the takeover will add more than 17,000 patents to the Google portfolio, useful as Microsoft plans to roll out its Windows 8 operating system for PCs and phones soon as Google bolsters its Android OS.

Lawsuit progress. Google is in court battling Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL) over its patents for Java, with Apple over alleged infringements of its iOS, with eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY) PayPal unit over alleged abuse of online payment software, and Viacom (Nasdaq: VIAB) over YouTube's streaming TV shows.

In addition, Google has announced probes by both the Justice Department and the European Commission into its business practices on possible antitrust violations.

All these lawsuits cost plenty, as does the legal advice on the Motorola deal.

The competition. Google, with as many as 900 million unique monthly visitors, ranked by eBusiness Knowledgebase, far outpaces Microsoft's Bing, with only 165 million, and Yahoo's (Nasdaq: YHOO) 160 million, followed by Ask.com's 125 million and AOL's (NYSE: AOL)'s 33 million.

Yahoo is under new management, and new CEO Scott Thompson has taken steps to fire 14 percent of the payroll, revitalize the site and sue Facebook. AOL, as well, is taking steps to rebuild itself. Both rivals are under pressure from activist shareholders to be more profitable.

To counter Facebook, which disclosed having 845 million members in February, Google introduced Google + nine months ago, which reported 90 million members as of Dec. 31. Will the March 31 number exceed 130 or 140 million?

So how will Google respond?

Cash and investments. When the fourth quarter closed, Google reported cash and investments of $44.6 billion. In the technology sector, only Apple and Microsoft have more.

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