Though it has a couple of soft spots, Alphabet's (GOOGL) Q3 report isn't anything for investors to panic over -- particularly considering where the stock traded going into earnings.
After the bell on Thursday, the Google parent reported Q3 GAAP revenue of $33.74 billion (up 21% annually) and EPS of $13.06. Excluding a $1.20 boost from accounting changes related to equity investments, EPS was $11.86, which was still soundly above a $10.41 consensus. However, revenue fell short of a $34.1 billion consensus.
Excluding traffic acquisition costs (TAC - ad revenue-sharing payments to partners), revenue was $27.16 billion, slightly below a $27.32 billion consensus.
Alphabet's Class A and C shares are down about 3% amid a 2% drop for the Nasdaq. The fact that -- unlike Amazon.com (AMZN) , which went into its Q3 report up 53% on the year -- Alphabet was only up about 5% in 2018 as of Thursday's close appears to be limiting the damage.
It also doesn't hurt that after weighing all of the positives and negatives, Google's top-line performance doesn't look too bad.
As CFO Ruth Porat noted on the earnings call, currency swings (i.e. a stronger dollar) were a major headwind in Q3. After growing revenue by 26% in dollars and 23% in constant currency (CC) in Q2, Alphabet's revenue rose 21% and dollars and 22% in CC in Q3. While analysts are well-aware of the dollar's recent strengthening, some may have underestimated the magnitude of its impact on Q3 sales.
In addition, thanks to strong mobile search and YouTube ad growth, Google reported that paid ad clicks on its own websites and apps, which account for the lion's share of its ad revenue, rose a whopping 62% annually. That's actually up from Q2's 58% and Q1's 59%.
This growth was partly offset by a 28% drop in average ad price, or cost per click (CPC) -- a decline worse than Q2's 22% and Q1's 19%. The CPC drop has much to do with the fact that on average, mobile search and YouTube ads carry lower prices than PC search ads.
However, from a long-term perspective, I think it's much better for Google to see strong paid click growth that's partly offset by large ad price declines than the opposite. As the company keeps getting better at making mobile search and YouTube ads more effective -- whether in terms of targeting the right users, measuring the impact of ads or converting ad clicks into activity such as purchases, e-mail sign-ups and app downloads -- ad prices for both platforms are likely to improve.
Meanwhile, TAC pressures, which have been a major headwind in recent quarters, eased a bit in Q3. Unlike in recent quarters, TAC was flat as a percentage of Google's ad revenue (23%). The fact that Google appears to have passed the 1-year anniversary of the start of a revised deal with Apple (AAPL) -- it makes Google the default search engine for both the Safari browser and iOS' search feature, with Apple apparently getting a large ad revenue cut in return -- seems to be helping.
Going forward, the EU's recent Android ruling -- it's currently being appealed by Google, but will be in effect in the interim -- could result in higher TAC expenses in the EMEA region, which accounted for 32% of Google's Q3 revenue. By allowing smartphone OEMs to not pre-install the Google Chrome and Search on their Android devices if they wish, the ruling could give OEMs the leverage to demand large search ad revenue cuts in exchange for pre-installing the apps.
That said, CEO Sundar Pichai downplayed the ruling's near-term impact on Google on the call, noting that any revised deal terms would only affect phones that are sold going forward and suggesting that the popularity of Google's services (its European search share is close to 90%) gives it some leverage. "[Changes are] going to take some time to reach users," he said. "And it's difficult to predict how the licensing model will be adopted."
For now, Google is responding to the ruling by charging Android OEMs $10 to $40 per device in the EU to install the Play Store and apps other than Chrome and Search, and then offering to cover some or all of those costs if an OEM also pre-installs Chrome and Search. Time will tell what the final deal terms look like.
There are a few other potential headwinds for Google investors to keep an eye on. Macro pressures -- exacerbated by trade tensions -- could impact ad sales in some markets. Aggressive spending could also weigh on earnings: Google's operating expenses rose 26% annually in Q3, and its capital spending grew to $5.3 billion from a year-ago level of $3.5 billion. And -- though it's worth remembering that e-commerce is just one of many ad verticals that Google relies, and one in which the company has been executing pretty well -- the rapid growth of Amazon's e-commerce ad business bears watching.
Nonetheless, Search and YouTube's both still look well-positioned to deliver healthy growth in the coming years as ad dollars continue shifting towards online channels. And between Google Maps, Waymo, the Play Store, hardware sales, the G Suite and the Google Cloud Platform (GCP), the company also has several other businesses that likely have a lot of revenue growth ahead of them, and which collectively might be producing no profits for now.
In that context, Google's forward earnings multiples -- shares trade for around 23 times their 2019 GAAP EPS consensus -- still look pretty reasonable, even if Q3 revenue fell slightly short of expectations.