NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Concerns that Google's (GOOGL - Get Report) (GOOG - Get Report) core business is slowing are legitimate, but the problem is perhaps not as bad as it seemed at first. That's a positive sign from Google's latest earnings report. Spending in 2015 is not going to be nearly as great as it was last year, which may boost earnings later this year.
Paid clicks -- an important metric on how well Google's search results are returning relevant information that advertisers pay for -- only grew 14% year over year. Troublingly, site revenue rose only 18% year over year. In the past, site revenue growth has been in the low-to-mid 20% range.
Search is still seeing fairly strong growth, just not as strong as it once was. Pacific Crest Securities analyst Evan Wilson noted that although paid clicks rose only 14% over the prior year, there were pockets of strength.
"Google Sites clicks were up 25%, a small acceleration from Q3 and an indication that the core business is steady," Wilson said.
Google is changing its network around to focus on higher quality growth, which in turn is impacting overall paid click growth. But as the company moves into 2015, the year-over-year comparisons will begin to look better.
On Google's earnings call, CFO Patrick Pichette pointed out that spending was particularly heavy in 2014, as the company made real estate purchases in the fourth quarter that aren't likely to occur in 2015, given the size and scope of the purchases.
Overall capital expenditures in the quarter were $3.6 billion, a bit more than usual.
"This quarter, most of the CapEx was... related to facilities, production equipment and data center construction -- in that order," Pichette said on the call. He noted that Google has "been opportunistic about acquiring space in real estate where we need to relieve pressure and accommodate for future growth," implying that real estate acquisitions of this size and scope are not likely to happen again for some time.
As a result, fourth-quarter results missed Wall Street estimates, as the company earned an adjusted $6.88 a share on $18.1 billion in revenue. Analysts were expecting $7.12 a share in earnings and $18.46 billion in revenue.Google shares were higher in going into Friday trading after several price target raises. Investors seem relieved that 2015 spending would not be at 2014 levels. In premarket trading, shares of the Class C stock (GOOG) were up 1.4% to $517.50, while the Class B shares (GOOGL) were gaining 1.4% to trade at $520.44.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from Google's earnings call.
Effects of a Strong Dollar
Google noted that its results were impacted by foreign currency fluctuations around the world, including a stronger U.S. dollar and a weaker euro and Japanese yen, something CFO Patrick Pichette talked about frequently on the call.
"On the revenue side, clearly... the strengthening of the U.S. dollar resulted in a gross negative currency impact of $616 million just into Q4," Pichette noted. However, thanks to the company's hedging program, it only decreased revenue by $468 million. Pichette also noted that the company's other revenue line, which includes Google Play, was hurt by currency exchange rates, most notably in Japan due to the weakened yen.
The strong dollar, coupled with the real estate acquisitions, made for a particularly "noisy" quarter for Google -- something Cantor Fitzgerald analyst Youssef Squali believes will pass.
"Slightly lower revenues on strong F/X headwinds and on softer 'Other Revenue,' combined with higher one-time expenses and elevated capex, caused a muted aggregate 4Q:14 performance," Squali wrote in a note. "That said, once cleaned up, the numbers look more attractive, with very healthy growth for core revenue that's faster than the overall online ad industry, and margins in line with our expectations. We continue to see Google as one of the best plays on global online ad and commerce growth at a compelling valuation."
Squali rates Google shares buy with a $635 price target.
Google has been criticized for not caring about its share price performance, particularly after it split its stock last year and gave the two share classes unequal voting rights.
But there was a change in tune on last nights' earnings call, as Pichette made specific mention that share price performance does matter.
As for the potential for a buyback or a dividend, Pichette noted that there was nothing to announce right then.
"I just can reiterate the same message... which is share price does matter," Pichette said on the earnings call. "It matters to our board. It matters to all of us. We're all shareholders in the company."
Despite Pichette's comments, it seems that Google, with its $64.4 billion cash hoard, is getting to the point where a capital return program -- buybacks, dividends or both -- looks more likely.
The Monster That Is YouTube
YouTube has become an advertising monster and its user base is enormous. Interim Chief Business Officer Omid Kordestani noted that YouTube has 1 billion users and watch time is up 50% year over year, suggesting that growth is accelerating, not slowing.
"We are seeing great momentum in mobile advertising on YouTube," Kordestani said on the call. "Mobile revenue on YouTube is up more than 100% year over year."
Pacific Crest's Wilson noted that, with its "impressive" stats, YouTube is undervalued as a whole under Google's umbrella.
"We think video and ad tech is undervalued at GOOGL's current valuation," said Wilson. "With the budget shift from offline to online accelerating and the industry focus on video ads, YouTube is positioned for success."
--Written by Chris Ciaccia in New York
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