Despite Alphabet’s Growth, Shares Drop on Q4 Earnings Miss

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Despite strong growth across much of Alphabet (GOOGL) , shares of the Google parent dropped in after-hours trading when the company said it had missed Wall Street earnings expectations.

Alphabet earned $9.70 per share in the fourth quarter, while analysts polled by FactSet expected $9.98 per share. Including the impact of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, Google lost $4.35 per share. Revenues grew 24% to $33.3 billion in the quarter.

The stock dropped 2.5% to $1,152, but was down about twice that amount immediately after the report.

Ruth Porat, CFO of Alphabet, told investors that mobile search is “again leading the way.” Meanwhile, hardware such as the Pixel phone and Google Home personal assistant, Google Cloud and Google Play show “substantial growth” that “continues to highlight the benefits of our investments,” she said.

Sales from core Google businesses, including search and mobile search, rose nearly 22% to $27.2 billion in the quarter.

Alphabet said that its board has appointed former Stanford University president John Hennessy as Chairman. Hennessy has served on the board since 2004 and replaces Eric Schmidt, who said he would step down in December.

“The star of the show for Alphabet was yet again ad growth (which remains our core focus) as accelerating ad momentum from search and YouTube was a major growth catalyst and enabled the company to handily beat expectations. Importantly paid clicks was up 43% year over year vs. the Street at 42%, which is an eye popping number in our opinion,” Daniel Ives of GBH Insights wrote in a report.

Google’s $6.45 billion in traffic acquisition costs, or TAC, were higher than the forecast of $6.28 billion, Ives noted. TAC reflects the amount that Google pays to other sites that carry its ads. Porat said TAC is higher because of changes to deals with partners and higher fees for mobile and programmatic ads that are sold via software rather than human agents.

Porat said companies including hardware such as the Pixel phone and Google Home personal assistant; Google Cloud Platform; and YouTube are leading a “second wave of growth” for the company.

Sales for Google’s “other” properties, which includes some of those second-wave businesses such as cloud and hardware, gained 38% to $4.7 billion in the quarter.

Google CEO Sundar Pichai told investors that Google Cloud and G-Suite applications are a “$1 billion per-quarter business,” and called GCP “the fastest growing major public cloud provider in the world.”

Google Assistant is on 400 million devices, Pichai said, ranging from Google Home speakers to Android phones and tablets to smart watches and televisions. “Google Assistant in some ways brings together all of the technology we have been building for years,” he said.

Since Google does not break out results for the cloud business, investors cannot test Pichai’s claim. Microsoft (MSFT) said Wednesday that its Azure cloud business grew 98% in its second fiscal quarter, setting a high bar for Google Cloud. Amazon (AMZN) said Thursday that revenue from Amazon Web Services grew nearly 43% in 2017 to $17.5 billion.

Google’s “third wave of growth” includes companies in the “Other Bets” business such as the Nest division that makes smart thermostats and security cameras; Google Fiber and the Verily life sciences unit, Porat said. For the full year, revenues for the group were up 49% to $1.2 billion. The Other Bets posted a $3.4 billion operating loss, which is smaller than 2016’s $3.6 billion shortfall.

Meanwhile, the smart car unit Waymo surpassed 4 million miles of driving in the quarter, said Porat. While it took Waymo 18 months to log its first million miles the last million came over 6 months. The company launches a commercial pilot of a driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix, Ariz., this year.

Alphabet’s board approved an additional $8.6 billion in buybacks of its Class C stock.

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