Google Inc Earnings Preview: Focus On Antitrust Noise

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Google is scheduled to release its next earnings report tomorrow after closing bell, and analysts are expecting there to be quite a bit of noise regarding the European Union’s investigation. Some analysts believe the new EU competition commissioner may seek to make an example of Google by launching a prolonged attack that could cost shareholders in the long run.

What to expect in Google’s earnings report

BGC analyst Colin Gillis expects Google to post $17.9 billion in revenue for the March quarter, which would represent a growth rate of 15% year over year. He’s ahead of the consensus estimate of $17.6 billion. He’s estimating adjusted earnings of $6.49 per share, which is lower than the consensus estimate of $6.61 per share.

The reason Gillis is lower than the consensus is because Google has missed estimates in six of the last eight quarters. He also notes that the strengthening of the U.S. dollar will weigh on the search giant’s results, just as it has on every other international U.S.-based company recently.

The analyst predicts Google Websites revenue of $12 billion, which would be 69% of total revenue and a 17% year over year growth rate. He estimates that Google Network Members’ Websites revenue will be $4 billion or 21% of the total and a growth rate of 11%.

He projects $4 billion in traffic acquisition costs and 13% growth in Paid Clicks. He expects Cost per Click to fall 3% compared to last year and believes it will return to growth in the second half of 2015.

Google to be made an example?

Gillis points out that Google shares have fallen more than 6% since hitting their latest high on March 5 due to concerns about the EU’s investigation. The search giant faces anti-competition charges filed by Margrethe Vestager, the agency’s new competition commissioner. Further, the analyst points out that shareholders have already suffered losses because Google’s market capitalization has plunged by $27 billion since March 5.

He said in a report this week that while Google has an excellent legal team, he thinks Vestager may want to “define herself with a prolonged multi-prong attack on Google that may prove to be a costly drag” on the company’s time and resources. Nonetheless, he thinks investors are already pricing the investigation into Google shares.

He points out also that Google has plenty of cash to pay any fine resulting from the EU’s probe, which he thinks will be between $1 billion and $6 billion. Gillis also thinks the investigation will keep Google from making any more acquisitions, which he thinks is a positive for shareholders.

Multiple issues create a “noisy quarter” for Google

Analysts Scott Devitt, John Egbert and Alex Chavdaroff of Stifel agree with Gillis in believing that investors will be focused on what Google is doing to deal with the EU antitrust investigation. In addition to that issue, however, they see the expiration of the contract with Mozilla Firefox in December and currency headwinds as adding to the noise.

The Stifel team also expects investors to be wanting to hear more about how the upcoming change in chief financial officer might affect Google’s policies about capital returns. They don’t expect any changes in the search giant’s current plan, however.

Further, they point out that more and more of Google’s growth is starting to come from business divisions with lower margins. As a result, it will be difficult for Google to continue achieving “meaningful and sustainable upward earnings revisions.

Google stock to remain range-bound?

BGC continues to rate Google as a Buy with a $610 per share price target, while Stifel maintains its Hold rating on the company going into tomorrow’s earnings report. The Stifel team said they think Google stock will remain range-bound this year because of the headwinds the company faces.

As of this writing, Class A shares of Google were down 0.06% to $542.59 per share.

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