×

Google has a higher antitrust risk under Trump because laws are 'rather vague'

Google CEO Sundar Pichai
Getty Images
Google CEO Sundar Pichai

Shares of Alphabet underperformed the already sagging broader tech sector following a New York Times report that some advisers to the president are discussing subjecting Google to more antitrust scrutiny.

At its lowest point today, the stock traded down 2.84 percent at $821.03 per share. By comparison, the Tech Sector hit a low of $843.29 per share, down 1.39 percent at that low.

Alphabet, which had close ties to the Obama administration, has so far avoided antitrust charges, but faces greater risk under the incoming as yet unnamed FTC Chairman, said Seth Bloom, founder of Bloom Strategic Counsel on CNBC's "Closing Bell." (Bloom counts Google rival Yelp as a client.) Google has at least 80 percent market share in search.

Bloom, a former general counsel to the senate antitrust committee, says the FTC does have a case against Google for an antitrust investigation. In late 2012 FTC staff found Google was behaving like a monopolist but later dropped the case, he noted. Since then, the European Commission bought antitrust charges which accuse Google of unfairly prioritizing its shopping service in search results, blocking rivals in search advertising and using its Android mobile operating system to thwart the competition.

"Antitrust is highly discretionary and the antitrust laws in the U.S. are rather vague and it really depends on who is doing the antitrust enforcement, and that is the big unknown as we go forward," said Bloom.

Bloom's advice to Alphabet's general counsel is to change its search practices, particularly in Europe, but also in the U.S.

"You ought to be concerned about who might be nominated to be Chair of the FTC, for example" he said. "Some of the people who have been floated have been people who have expressed concerns about Google in the past and we'll have to see how that goes."

But Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youssef Squali is less concerned.

"As a user, you are literally a click away from switching to [Microsoft] Bing, you are literally a click away from switching to Yahoo search," Squali told CNBC. "The fact that they have 80 percent of search revenues speaks more about the superiority of their search algorithm, of their search results and of their relevancy to the advertisers than anything else."

Google remains a top pick for Cantor Fitzgerald for 2017. The company's recent earnings report showed it pulled in revenues of $26.06 billion in the December quarter and is successfully diversifying its business, he said.

"I think this is more of a headline risk," he said. "For now at least the company continues to hit on all cylinders," said Squali.