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Google reporting error reveals troubling Q3

Fri, 10/19/2012 - 2:47pm
Andrew Berg, Wireless Week

Shares of Google dropped nearly 8 percent Thursday to close at $695 on an errant early release of its earnings Thursday.

Google blamed printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. for submitting its third-quarter filings with the SEC in the middle of the trading day instead of during an after-hours earnings call, as scheduled.

The dramatic drop of the company's stock, which can be attributed largely to a huge miss of expected profits, triggered a halt of trading in Google. Shares of the company were trading at $700 in early morning trading Friday, well off the $754 high the company commanded around noon Thursday just prior to the massive selloff.

In the originally scheduled earnings call broadcast on YouTube, CEO Larry Page simply apologized for the error and got on with the business of explaining why Google came in well below analyst expectations for the quarter.

The company reported profits of $2.18 billion, or $6.53 per share, during the third quarter, well below the $2.73 billion, or $8.33 per share, from the year-ago quarter.

In a presentation by Page that was kept short due to the CEO's persistent throat ailment, he said he was pleased with $14 billion in total revenue, which marks a 45 percent annual increase.

However, much of that increase can be attributed to the Motorola Mobility acquisition, which Google closed in August. While Motorola's revenue might have boosted Google's this quarter, the handset OEM’s sales were ugly. Motorola Mobility saw $1.78 billion in revenue, down 25 percent annually.

Ultimately, it was the Google’s performance in its key metric, Web advertising, that had investors worried Thursday. Google's ad revenue rose 16 percent year-over-year, well off from the minimum 21 percent growth the company has seen over the past 10 quarters. Much of that has to do not with the number of clicks Google sees, which has actually increased, but rather a 15 percent decline in the average cost-per-click.

On top of falling ad revenue, investors are also concerned that Google will fall into the same trap as Facebook and be unable to capitalize on mobile.

Page stressed a multi-screen strategy for the future, boasting its Android mobile platform, as well as its Chrome browser, Google TV and Chromebook products.

"Our mobile monetization per query is already a significant fraction compared to desktop," Page said. "In short, as we transition from one screen to multi screens, Google has enormous opportunities to innovate and drive ever-higher monetization, just like Search in 2000."

Page said increased search queries and innovation in advertising will help Google monetize mobile queries more effectively than desktop today.

The company provided some evidence that it’s on the right track to seize the opportunity represented by mobile. Last year, Google's run-rate for mobile advertising hit $2.5 billion. But the company's renovated Google Play store appears to have done wonders for the company's revenue on the mobile side.

"Including these new sources grossed up, I can announce our new run-rate for mobile is now over $8 billion," Page said.

Patrick Pichette, the company's CFO, added some clarity to that dramatic $8 billion number, noting that last year, Google included only gross revenue from mobile ads, but this year the company added gross revenue from the mobile sales of Google Play content, as well as consumer spending on the Play apps.

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