Alphabet Investors Have High Expectations for Earnings Amid Pandemic Bounce-Back

Adam Galica | CNBC

Google will report second-quarter earnings Tuesday, and investors have big expectations for the company, which is often a bellwether for ad and travel industries.

Analysts and investors say they're expecting the company's highest earnings of the year, with near-50% growth in some of its ad portfolios as it's poised to represent the strongest bounce-back since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Investors are also eager for any kind of color on how executives plan to handle looming regulator pressures, which reached new heights in the second quarter.

A strong quarter, overall

Since late last year, investors have touted Q2 as the best-expected quarter for Alphabet during the Covid-19 pandemic. The company beat earnings expectations for the last four consecutive quarters, and investors expect that streak to continue.

"Nearly all advertising sectors are on pace to exceed our expectations" in Q2, bolstered by Google Search and YouTube, Credit Suisse analysts said in a note.  

Some analysts expect a near-50% year-over-year revenue increase for the company. Granted, Q2 2020 was the company's first decline, but that kind of growth would suggest a roaring economic return. 

Alphabet's stock has grown more than 44% year-over-year, soaring beyond its FAANG peers by a longshot. Investors expect it to rise even more following the second quarter results.

Big ad dollars

Strong performance within its core Search product — the company's most lucrative unit — would represent a full bounce-back in ad and travel spending, which investors expect to see more of during Q2.

Investors will look for how the company is faring from its experiments in commence and monetization, which it ramped up this time last year. Google also announced during the second quarter that it is deepening its partnership with Shopify by letting the company's more than 1 million merchants make their products more discoverable in Google Search and elsewhere.

"Google is now following up with an ability to more easily scan in-store products which then automatically appear in the Business Profile section of Search and Maps," Credit Suisse note said. "By simplifying offline catalog ingestion, users now have access to real-time inventory information which should help drive conversion and thus incremental ad dollars over time."

In its blockbuster performance last quarter, YouTube said it brought in $6.01 billion in advertising revenue during the quarter — up from $4 billion from a year ago, for a growth rate of 49%. Investors expect continued growth for YouTube, which is on pace to bring in annual revenue comparable to Netflix, despite YouTube coming under more fire for its role in misinformation around Covid-19 and vaccines.

Investors will also be on the lookout for any updated metrics on YouTube's new Tiktok competitor Shorts, the short video platform the company launched globally in July. On last quarter's earnings call, CEO Sundar Pichai said Shorts is garnering 6.5 billion daily views, a significant increase from 3.5 billion at the end of January. Investors will seek an update from executives on the latest viewership numbers.

Cloud margins

Investors expect to see losses for Google's cloud unit narrow as they have been the last few quarters.

Google's cloud unit — the company's hopeful cash cow for future profitability — still lags behind Amazon and Microsoft, but it's been gaining some steam consistently since CEO Thomas Kurian took the helm in 2019.

Last quarter, specifically, it reduced operating losses from $1.73 billion the year prior to $1 billion. It also showed a 46% year-over-year growth in revenue.

Investors will look to see if this pace continues and for executives to provide any updates on the customer backlog as a signal of future expected growth.

Investors may also ask about the company's leadership. While the cloud unit has been hiring consistently since Kurian took the helm, it lost at least two vice presidents in the last week alone, triggering a reorganization at the helm of at least a couple of teams.

Regulatory risks

Even though Alphabet executives don't disclose any guidance, investors will have more questions than ever about potential regulatory threats, which reached a peak during the second quarter.

"These are truly dark days for the company as it relates to antitrust scrutiny," stated a note by analyst Brian J. White of Monness, Crespi, Hardt & Co. "We believe it will prove difficult for the company to remain in its current form."

The Biden administration announced it would appoint known Google foe Jonathan Kanter to lead its antitrust division. Biden also issued an executive order, specifically ordering a crackdown on Big Tech and practices around data gathering and privacy. 

Earlier in July, French regulators fined the company $593 million over uncooperative behavior with news publishers. U.S. government enforcers in July filed their fourth antitrust lawsuit against Google in the last year. This time, a group of 37 state attorneys alleged the company abused its power over app developers through its Play Store on Android.

Google executives have thus far maintained that they have played by the rules while touting the helpfulness of their tools. But, investors will still look for any additional color on how executives plan to face the fallout of regulatory threats.

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