Why a 25% Sales Beat and a 143% Jump in EPS Aren’t Enough for Alphabet Shareholders

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Alphabet Inc. (NASDAQ: GOOGL) reported fourth-quarter and full-year 2018 results after markets closed Monday. The search engine behemoth reported diluted earnings per share (EPS) of $12.77 on revenues of $39.28 billion. In the year-ago quarter, Alphabet posted a net loss per share of $4.35 on revenues of $32.32 billion. Analysts were estimating EPS of $10.86 on revenues of $38.98 billion.

For the full year, Alphabet reported revenues of $136.82 billion (up 24.7%) and EPS of $43.70 (up by 142.8%) compared with 2017 revenues of $110.86 billion and EPS of $18.00. Analysts were looking for revenues of $136.49 billion and EPS of $41.81.

The Google segment posted fourth-quarter revenues of $39.12 billion, up from $32.19 billion a year ago. Operating income rose from $8.6 billion to $9.7 billion. The operating loss on Other Bets totaled $1.33 billion, up from $748 million in the year-ago quarter. For the full year, Other Bets revenue rose from $2.73 billion to $3.36 billion. Reconciling items, including European Commission fines among other items, doubled from $3.41 billion to $6.84 billion.

In the fourth quarter, year-over-year traffic acquisition costs paid to Google Network members fell by about four percentage points to 70% of Network revenues, or $3.93 billion. Payments to distribution partners totaled $3.51 billion, about 23% of websites revenues. Total traffic acquisition costs rose from $6.45 billion to $7.44  billion.

Paid clicks on Google websites were up 66% year over year and up 22% sequentially. Aggregate cost per click fell 29% compared with the year-ago quarter and was down 9% sequentially.

The company’s effective tax rate dropped from 138% last year to 11%. Last year’s rate included a one-time, $9.9 billion transition tax on accumulated foreign earnings and deferred tax effects.

Some analysts were expecting (hoping) that Google would report YouTube sales separately, but unless the company reveals the information on the conference call, those analysts are not getting what they were hoping for.

Alphabet did not offer guidance in its earnings statement, but analysts are looking for first-quarter EPS of $10.47 and revenues of $37.26 billion. For all of 2019, estimates call for EPS of $47.12 and revenues of $162. 94 billion.

Alphabet’s stock closed up about 2% Monday at $1,141.42 and traded down about 2.1% at $1,117.74 in after-hours trading. The stock’s 52-week range is $977.66 to $1,291.44 and the consensus 12-month price target is $1,351.27.

The drop in the share price following a beat on both profits and prices may just be indicating that the company’s results were nothing special and Monday’s 2% gain resulted from a rumor and the after-hours drop was selling on the news. Still, the year-over-year percentage increases are truly impressive for a company with more than $100 billion in annual revenues.

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