Alphabet warns investors that more EU fines against Google may be coming

Key Points
  • Alphabet just warned it can't even estimate amount of another potential EU antitrust fine.
  • Same timetable for latest European inquiries could drop another Q2 earnings bomb in 2018.
  • Statement came in same filing where it booked a $2.74 billion fine over its comparison shopping service.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager holds a news conference at the EU Commission's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, June 27, 2017.
Francois Lenoir | Reuters

Alphabet warned in its quarterly securities filing that it could face future fines from the European Union for two investigations that are still underway. Based on previous cases, investors might expect these fines to land in 2018.

The statement in a note to the company's 10-Q gives the most detailed account yet of what the latest inquiry by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager could cost the company.

Twice last year the EC sent Statements of Objection to Google.

The first, on April 20, 2016, concerned "certain Android distribution practices."

The second, on July 14, 2016, came another SO "regarding the syndication of AdSense for Search."

The filing notes, "There is significant uncertainty as to the outcomes of these investigations; however, adverse decisions could result in fines and directives to alter or terminate certain conduct. Given the nature of these cases, we are unable to estimate the reasonably possible loss or ranges of loss, if any."

The disclosure came in a note to the same second-quarter earnings report in which Alphabet booked a $2.74 billion fine for using its dominance in search to unfairly point people to its own comparison shopping service.

And the matter may cost Alphabet more than money. It may also have to change how it does business.

"We are also evaluating the impact of potential remedies we may implement to address the EC's findings," the 10-Q document read.

Two years and two months passed between the time the European Commission sent its first letter to Alphabet -- with its objection to the shopping service -- and the levying of the fine. Accounting for that fine caused Alphabet's second-quarter profit to plunge.

If Vestager keeps the same timetable in her latest investigations of Google as she did with her first, Alphabet investors may want to ready themselves for another Q2 earnings bomb in 2018.


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