Google's Q4 results shine after ad rate decline slows

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Jan 23, 2013 7:11am IST

The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

The Google signage is seen at the company's headquarters in New York January 8, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Andrew Kelly

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Revenue from Google Inc's core Internet business outpaced many analysts' expectations during the crucial holiday quarter and advertising rates fell less than in previous periods, pushing its shares up roughly 5 percent.

The world's largest Internet search company introduced new product listings during the fourth quarter - typically its strongest - and also benefited from business growth in international markets, analysts said.

Excluding traffic-acquisition costs, the business generated net revenue of $9.83 billion, up from $8.13 billion a year earlier, Google reported on Tuesday. That surpassed a $9.6 billion average forecast from six analysts polled by Reuters.

"Business looked really strong, especially from a profitability perspective. They really grew their margins in the core business," said Sameet Sinha, an analyst with B. Riley Caris. "Most of that strength seems to be coming from international markets which grew revenues quite substantially: up 23 percent year over year, versus the 15 percent growth in the third quarter."

Average cost-per-click, a critical metric that denotes the price advertisers pay Google, declined 6 percent from a year ago, the fifth consecutive quarter of decline but an improvement over the third quarter's 15 percent slide.

Google executives told analysts on a conference call that policy changes related to the quality and quantity of ads appearing on certain of its Web properties had helped shore-up click prices while lowering the overall growth rate of paid clicks in the holiday quarter.

"Click prices are still declining, but it's better than expected," said BGC Partners analyst Colin Gillis.

The decline in Google's click prices is partly a result of consumers' shift to smartphones, where Google's ad rates are lower than those on Google's standard website.

Google cited growing demand for its spectrum of online advertising services, including mobile ads, display ads, video ads and its newly-launched product listings, though the company did not provide specific financial results for the individual businesses.

"More small enterprises increasing their spending collectively on Google's various products," continues to drive Google's growth, said Pivotal Research Group Analyst Brian Wieser.

MOTOROLA MOBILITY "STILL LOSING MONEY"

Investors shrugged off another quarterly loss at the Motorola Mobility mobile phone business Google acquired last year, one of various "big bets" that Google Chief Executive Larry Page has made to better position the company for a changing technology landscape defined by mobile gadgets and social networking.

"We now live in a multi-screen world," said Page, adding that "we feel naked without our smartphone."

Page said that Google had work to do in "managing our supply better as well as building a great customer experience," but said Google remains squarely focused on opportunities around newfangled devices such as smartphones.

Asked about the potential threat from Facebook Inc's recently-launched social networking search product, Page cited Google's years of online search experience and innovations such as voice-based search.

Consolidated net income in the fourth quarter was $2.89 billion or $8.62 per share, compared with $2.71 billion, or $8.22 per share, in the year-ago period when Google had not yet acquired Motorola.

Excluding certain items, Google said it earned $10.65 per share in the fourth quarter.

"The core business is a great business and the fourth-quarter is always a time for Google to shine. However, Motorola is still losing money and click rates still declined. They only declined 6 percent, but go back four or five quarters and click prices were improving. So mobile is still pressuring click prices," Gillis said.

The company posted consolidated revenue - which includes its Motorola Mobility mobile phone business but not the television set-top box business it recently agreed to sell - of $14.42 billion on Tuesday.

Motorola Mobility had an operating loss of $353 million during the quarter.

Google Finance Chief Patrick Pichette warned of more fluctuations in Motorola's financial results in the coming quarters as Google continues to restructure that business.

And he noted that Google was working through 12 months to 18 months of product pipeline that Google inherited in the acquisition.

Google announced plans to sell the Motorola Home television set top box business to Arris Group Inc for $2.35 billion. The company also has said it is focused on developing a smaller line-up of products in the mobile phone business.

Shares of Google rose roughly 5 percent to $738.20 in after-hours trading on Tuesday.

(Reporting By Alexei Oreskovic; Editing by Bernard Orr)

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