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Google offers stock split; Q1 revenue up 24%

Fri, 04/13/2012 - 2:15pm
Andrew Berg, Wireless Week

Google yesterday reported an impressive $10.6 billion in revenue for the first quarter, up 24 percent over last year. The company also announced a stock split.

First-quarter profits jumped 61 percent, rising $1.8 billion for the same period last year to $2.89 billion.

CEO Larry Page, who took over last year for Eric Schmidt, said in a conference call that big-bet products like Chrome, Android and YouTube are starting to pay off for the Internet giant, which relies heavily on revenue from its search advertising business.

Page took time to quote from the original founders’ letter he wrote with co-founder Sergey Brin, wherein the two declared that “new investors will fully share in Google's long-term economic future but will have little ability to influence its strategic decisions through their voting rights. … By investing in Google, you're placing an unusual long-term bet on a team, especially Sergey and me."

Page quoted from the letter as proof that the plan is working, just prior to announcing a 2-for-1 stock split, something for which he said many investors had asked.

The newly created shares will be “non-voting” shares and will be distributed via a stock dividend to all existing shareholders. The move will cut in half the price of existing shares and allow Page and Brin to remain the company’s controlling shareholders.

“These non-voting shares will be available for corporate uses, like equity-based employee compensation, that might otherwise dilute our governance structure,” Page said.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Brin and Page own 28.6 percent and 29.1 percent of the company, respectively, followed by Eric Schmidt (9.7 percent) and “others” (32.6 percent).

Concurrent with yesterday’s earnings release, Page and Brin released a founders’ letter for 2012, wherein the two justified the stock split as essential to allowing them to remain in control of the company. The pair made the case that a company’s success is often dependent on risky, long-term investments, such as Android, which might not have happened had investors had more voting rights.

“Technology products often require significant investment over many years to fulfill their potential. For example, it took over three years just to ship our first Android handset, and then another three years on top of that before the operating system truly reached critical mass,” the letter states, adding that “these kinds of investments are not for the faint-hearted.”

The pair acknowledged that some people, particularly those who opposed this structure at the start, would be unsupportive of the stock split, but that the pair had decided that a founder-led approach is in the best interests of Google, its shareholder and users.

“Having the flexibility to use stock without diluting our structure will help ensure we are set up for success for decades to come,” the letter argues.

The proposal is subject to the approval of a majority of the voting power of Google’s common stock, which will vote together as a single class at the company’s annual meeting on June 21. Given that Page, Brin and Schmidt control the majority of voting power, passage is almost a given.

On the subject of Android and what kind of return the company gets from it, Page said Google’s mobile platform is an important cohesive product that brings together many of its other products.

“And I think it does lead to better economics for us, too, because we're providing amazing experiences for people that are well integrated and work well and they demand,” Page said about Android.

When asked about Google’s tablet strategy given the meteoric rise of Apple’s iPad, Page acknowledged the competition but referenced “substantial investments” in things like Google Play as evidence that the company will continue to increase market share in the segment. He also said that lower-cost tablets that run Android, but not the full version of the platform, are good signs that the platform has a place in the tablet market.

Chris Antlitz, networking and mobility analyst for TBR, wrote in a research note that although Google is narrowing the gap against Apple in the tablet space (29 percent vs. 55 percent in Q4 2011, according to TBR), the company is gearing up to accelerate Android tablet adoption in 2012.

“Hoping to mimic the online sales model Amazon is successfully using to sell the Kindle Fire, Google plans to open its own tablet storefront in Q3 2012 and stock it with co-branded tablet devices from its OEM base,” Antlitz wrote, adding that Google also plans to aggressively optimize the Android operating system and applications for tablets to prevent incompatibility, as it has done with Ice Cream Sandwich.

Shares of Google remained flat immediately after the announcement yesterday but were down about 3 percent to $632 in early trading this morning.

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