Earnings Preview: Google Gets Ready to Impress


Google shares might not reflect the level of optimism swirling around this company right now, but this could be a break-out earnings report from Google after the bell later today.

Several key trends are playing in the company's favor right now, and that's about as much as analysts can count on since Googledoesn't offer guidance, and some of the third party market research has been called into question these last few quarters. This time around, analysts are anticipating $4.74 a share on $3.87 billion in revenue.

That's the easy part. Citigroup is looking for Google to miss that revenue consensus, posting $3.82 billion instead, and also looking for Google to miss its consensus EPS by a penny.

But Colin Gillis at Canaccord Adams expects Google to "deliver the goods," with a the company notably exceeding consensus, and calling Google "our Best Idea in the internet space -- both for the June quarter and our longer-term outlook." Gillis expects Google to report $4.90 a share on $3.953 billion.

Why the mix of opinion? Well, aside from that's-what-makes-a-market, let me examine what Gillis uses to back up his position: he says Google's performance paid search is robust, and dominant, and "sluggish," US paid-per-click search activity in the first quarter was offset by strong international results. He cites Google's ongoing ability to steal market share from its new found friend Yahoo, now controlling 61.8 percent versus Yahoo's 20.6 percent and Microsoft's 8.5 percent, according to comScore data.

He also says, based on his information, that Google has also taken more control of expenses, which is a problem that keeps cropping up quarter after quarter, and that this could contribute to the upside surprise he's anticipating. If Google has reined in expenses, that will certainly juice the bottom line and that might not be worked into other analyst models.

Mark Mahaney at Citigroup has Google missing on the top and bottom lines later today, but the company still remains the firm's top internet pick based on near and medium-term growth opportunities in PC search, and longer term opportunities in Display and Mobile Search advertising. Citi is basing tonight's "miss" on channel checks with nearly two dozen Search ad buyers, and concludes that Google is on track for an in-line quarter.

In-line versus a big beat. Let the investor decide. Somebody's right and somebody's wrong, and investors will feel the effects either way. Remember a couple of quarters ago when Google missed and the stock got crushed. Last quarter, following so much worry about a precipitous slowdown in Search advertising that just wasn't true, Google shares soared by a staggering 20 percent when the company blew past those nervous-Nelly expectations. Google earnings are such a crap-shoot, shrouded in mystery until the actual numbers come out, which could mean major volatility later today.

Other key metrics to watch later today: Paid click growth, which should see 15 percent to 18 percent growth; North American revenue, which should climb 3 percent; Web Site gross revenue of $3.54 billion to $3.57 billion; keep an eye on Network Sites revenue as well, which should come in somewhere between $1.58 billion and $1.67 billion; and of course, headcount, which could grow by another 1,000 employees.

Citigroup says anything more than a 1,000 new employees would be bad, anything less than 800 would be good. That goes back to the "expense" thing that Gillis at Canaccord was referring to. As of last quarter, Google employed 19,156, but the huge increase from the fourth quarter employment number was due to the 1,500 DoubleClick workers that came to Google after that acquisition closed.

This might say it all: Gillis maintains his $775 target on Google. Mahaney is at $630. Today's earnings report will be closely watched indeed.

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