SAN FRANCISCO — Internet search leader Google Inc. (Nasdaq: GOOG) is scheduled to report its first-quarter earnings results on Thursday after the stock market closes.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Investors will be listening even more carefully to management’s commentary because this quarter’s conference call will mark Larry Page’s first extensive public remarks since he reclaimed his original Google job as CEO.
Although Page is one of the co-founders who invented the search engine that turned Google into the Internet’s most profitable company, there is still a fair amount of anxiety about how he intends to run the company. Page has said little since the unexpected announcement in late January about his plans to replace Eric Schmidt as CEO, feeding the uncertainty.
Page, 38, has long expressed his belief that Google should invest heavily in opportunities that may take years to pay off. That philosophy has caused some investors and analysts to wonder if the company will exceed Wall Street’s quarterly earnings targets as consistently as it did under Schmidt for the past 6 ½ years.
The apprehension about Page is one of the reasons that Google’s stock price has fallen by about 9 percent since Google announced the role shift. The tech-driven Nasdaq index has edged up slightly during the same period.
Without making any financial projections, Page has pledged to make Google even more successful by eliminating bureaucracy to foster innovation and introduce products more quickly. Toward that end, Page shook up Google’s management team last week just a few days after he replaced Schmidt as CEO. He anointed seven veteran Google executives to run seven key divisions that will report directly to him. The changes coincided with the departure of Google’s top products executive, Jonathan Rosenberg, who had been increasingly called upon to explain the company’s strategy in recent earnings conference calls.
Google has already announced its expenses will rise significantly this year as it increases its payroll by at least 25 percent, or 6,200 employees, in the biggest hiring spree of its 13-year history. As of mid-February, Google already had listed twice as many job openings as it did at the same time last year, according to ThinkEquity analyst Aaron Kessler.
Besides listening for additional cues on how aggressively Google intends to spend this year, investors also will be focusing on the progress of the company’s efforts to sell more visual and mobile advertising to supplement its main moneymaker — text ads placed alongside search results.
Analysts also may ask how Google intends to handle the challenges posed by increased regulatory scrutiny of its dominant search engine.
The increased vigilance resulted in Google making a series of concessions to gain clearance to buy airline fare tracker ITA Software for $700 million. To get the deal approved, Google agreed to conditions that could set the stage for the U.S. government to open a broader inquiry into some of Google’s business practices. European regulators and the Texas attorney general already have opened inquiries into allegations that Google has abused its power to direct traffic to its own services and drive up ad rates.
WHY IT MATTERS: Google will be the first Internet company to report how it fared during the first three months of the year, providing investors with a gauge on how much faster electronic commerce is growing than the overall economy.
WHAT’S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by FactSet expect earnings of $8.10 per share, excluding expenses for employee stock compensation, on revenue of $6.33 billion, after subtracting Google’s ad commissions.
LAST YEAR’S QUARTER: In the first quarter of 2010, Google earned $2 billion, or $6.06 per share, on revenue of $6.77 billion. Excluding stock compensation revenue, Google earned $6.76 per share on revenue of $5.06 billion, after subtracting ad commissions.
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