Updated from 11:27 a.m. to include additional information from Pacific Crest analyst.
Mountain View, Calif.-based Google earned $12.01 a share on a non-GAAP basis, generating $13.55 billion in revenue, excluding traffic acquisition costs (TAC). In a survey from Thomson Reuters, analysts expect the Internet search giant to earn $12.21 a share on $16.753 billion in sales, including TAC. Excluding TAC, revenue estimates were $13.41 billion.
Google noted that cost-per-click, a key advertising metric, fell 11% year-over-year and 2% sequentially, but that paid clicks, which include clicks related to ads served on Google sites and the sites of its Network members, increased approximately 31% over the fourth quarter of 2012, and 13% sequentially.
Google Web Site revenue growth accelerated to 22.1% year over year, showing the third consecutive quarter of higher revenue growth. Perhaps most most important were the paid click numbers, which show that search continues to be an exceptionally strong business, and the moat around it is getting stronger.
These results, coupled with the recent announcement that Google is selling Motorola Mobility to Lenovo for $2.91 billion, but is keeping the patents, have boosted sentiment surrounding the search giant.
Analysts by and large were exceptionally positive on the quarter, with some even raising their price targets above $1,300. Here's what a few analysts had to say:
Credit Suisse analyst Stephen Ju (Outperform, $1,450 PT)
"Once again we call attention to the click volume growth which rose 31% YOY; as we have previously noted, we view this as a leading indicator of where Google's top line growth can eventually head as mobile pricing marches toward where they already are on desktop through its initiatives such as Enhanced Campaigns, App Indexing, and better cross-platform attribution. Moreover, Core Google segment revenue reported a very healthy growth in Play and incremental margins continue to show improvement - the net result of this was a halt in 4Q13 of the segment's margin slide. We maintain our Outperform rating and target price of $1450."
Canaccord Genuity analyst Michael Graham (Buy, $1,370 PT)
"Google reported strong Q4 results with accelerating revenue and paid click growth. TAC also showed positive leverage. In addition to the strong top line, sentiment appears bolstered by the announced sale of the MMI handset business to Lenovo, which should help restore higher revenue growth and margins at the corporate level. We are slightly raising estimates and continue to believe Google is a healthy core Internet and Tech holding."
Jefferies analyst Brian Pitz (Buy, $1,300 PT)
"GOOG posted a solid qtr with mostly in-line results across the business, with gains driven by multi-screen ad campaigns, brand ads, and improved ad-tech platforms. We continue to believe the Motorola sale makes both strategic and financial sense. The sale strengthens Android and we note GOOG's financials will improve without Motorola's ongoing operating losses (-$384MM in 4Q)."
JPMorgan analyst Doug Anmuth (Overweight, $1,325 PT)
"Google reported solid 4Q results as core Google net revenue growth ex-FX accelerated to 23%, up from 21% in 3Q, demonstrating ongoing strength in Search, Display, and Google Play. All segments outperformed on revenue as Sites, Network, and Licensing and Other came in ahead of expectations."
Cantor Fitzgeralad analyst Youssef Squali (Buy, $1,260 PT)
"We're reiterating our BUY rating and raising our PT to $1,260/share (from $1,175/share) post another solid quarter and prospects for further strength. Core Google segment revenues accelerated to an impressive +22% Y/Y growth rate from +19% in 3Q:13, reflecting healthy demand across geographies. The pending MMI sale should be accretive to Google, adding $30-40/share by our estimate (not in our numbers.) We believe Google remains one of the best plays on online advertising growth at a valuation we still find compelling."
Topeka Capital Markets analyst Victor Anthony (Buy, $1,313 PT)
"Google's results demonstrated continued strength in 4Q, with accelerating growth in both core Websites and Network Websites revenues. Paid click growth, a sign of health in the search business, accelerated for the fourth consecutive quarter. The sale of Motorola removes a profitability overhang, and an eventual settlement with the EU Commission should remove the last remaining major regulatory overhang. With a dominant market share in online search, an innovative platform in technology, coupled with low competitive risks and diminishing regulatory concerns, Google, in our view, is a must own stock for 2014."
Merill Lynch Bank of America analyst Justin Post (Buy, $1,310 PT)
"Solid 4Q core revenue beat driven by core search growth and Google Play activity. Remain constructive on opportunity for improving mobile sentiment (Enhanced Campaigns and Google Play). We maintain our Buy rating and are raising our Price Objective to $1,310 from $1,250 on higher EPS."
Pacific Cresit Securities analyst Evan Wilson (Outperform, $1,450 PT)
"We are more bullish on Google after Q4 results, but also on it selling MMI and acquiring Nest. We think the Motorola transaction is a net positive as it helps future margins significantly. Google will get dinged for buying Motorola in the first place, but it should also get kudos for moving on after a business did not work out. With Nest, Google gets two very important things: high-quality design talent and a leader in the Internet of Things, one of the biggest future tech themes we are tracking."
--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York
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