Google parent Alphabet on Tuesday reported its first quarterly revenue miss of the pandemic after the war in Ukraine hurt YouTube ad sales, leaving investors rattled as the global economy sputters.

The world’s largest provider of search and video made a fortune over the last two years as the pandemic forced more shops and people online. But outdoing those sales is proving difficult so far this year with the war, rising inflation and product shortages causing advertisers to dump marketing campaigns, according to analysts.

Alphabet Chief Financial Officer Ruth Porat said it was too early to predict when sales slowed by the war may pick up and warned that the strengthening US dollar would hurt sales even more in the current quarter.

Alphabet shares, which were up nearly 90 percent over the past two years, fell about 2.5 percent after the results late on Tuesday. They had dropped 3.6 percent during the regular session.

David Wagner, portfolio manager at Aptus Capital Advisors, voiced growing concerns about the macro environment. “Alphabet has been seen as one of the most insulated companies in the advertising space relative to peers, but sometimes you can still own the best house in the worst neighborhood,” he said.

Alphabet said first-quarter sales rose to $68.01 billion (roughly Rs. 5,21,185 crore), up 23 percent from last year but below the average estimate of $68.1 billion (roughly Rs. 5,21,184 crore) among financial analysts tracked by Refinitiv, its first miss since the fourth quarter of 2019.

Notably, YouTube advertising sales of $6.9 billion (roughly Rs. 52,881 crore) missed analysts’ target of $7.5 billion (roughly Rs. 57,485 crore), according to FactSet.

Porat said the war in Ukraine that began during the quarter had an “outsized impact” on YouTube revenue because the company stopped ad sales in Russia and brand advertisers, particularly in Europe, pulled back on spending after fighting broke out.

Google overall derived 1 percent of its sales in 2021 from Russia, Porat said.

She also reported moderating growth in sales to direct-response advertisers on YouTube, and added that cuts to app store fees to address antitrust concerns had wiped out gains in subscription revenue.

Google’s “other” revenue, which includes app, hardware and subscription sales, were $6.8 billion (roughly Rs. 52,880 crore), below estimates of $7.3 billion (roughly Rs. 57,484 crore).

Quarterly profit was $16.44 billion (roughly Rs. 1,26,010 crore), or $24.62 (roughly Rs. 1,890) per share, missing expectations of $25.76 (roughly Rs. 1,974) per share.

Alphabet also said its board had authorised an additional $70 billion (roughly Rs. 5,36,490 crore) in stock repurchases. It has bought back over $81 billion (roughly Rs. 6,20,795 crore) in shares over the last two years.

AD SLOWDOWN

Google is expected to grab 29 percent, or the leading share, of the $602 billion (roughly Rs. 46,12,975 crore) global online ad market in 2022, at least the 12th straight year it has been on top, according to Insider Intelligence.

Sophie Lund-Yates, lead equity analyst at Hargreaves Lansdown, said in a note that the macro environment could bring some ups and downs for Alphabet, although the company remained indispensable to consumers and advertisers.

Last week, Snap warned that inflation, labor shortages and other economic challenges could pressure ad revenue.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc, the second-biggest online advertising platform with an expected 21.4 percent share of the global market in 2022, reports earnings on Wednesday. Its shares fell 2.5 percent on Tuesday after Alphabet’s results.

Increasing competition from companies such as Amazon.com and ByteDance’s TikTok are chipping away at Google ad sales, too. Still, retailers continue to pour money into ads and travel and entertainment advertisers are ramping up again. In addition, Google is better positioned than rivals to withstand economic shocks because its advertising tools tend to be among the last abandoned by advertisers as they are well known, easy to use and reach more users than alternatives.

High on the list of risks faced by the company are numerous lawsuits and investigations into whether Google has engaged in anticompetitive conduct through its advertising and other businesses.

The latest scrutiny has been on its pending $5.4 billion (roughly Rs. 41,378 crore) acquisition of cybersecurity services provider Mandiant, which the US Department of Justice is reviewing closely. Google has said it still expects to close the deal this year.

Google Cloud, the unit that would contain Mandiant, increased revenue in the first quarter by 44 percent compared with a year ago to $5.82 billion (roughly Rs. 44,597 crore).

© Thomson Reuters 2022


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