Peter Kafka

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Google CEO Eric Schmidt: “I Have a Special Spot for Apple in My Heart”

schmidtdifA first peek at Google’s Q4 earnings report: Revenue in line and a nice earnings bump. The search giant reported revenue of $4.95 billion and earnings of $6.79 per share. The Street was looking for revenue of $4.9 billion and $6.50 in earnings per share, per Yahoo (YHOO). (I’ve also seen lower “consensus” numbers for EPS in the $6.45-$6.48 range).

Google (GOOG) stock has lurched five percent lower in the first few minutes of after-hours trading, as investors digest the news. If you want to anthropomorphize the market, you might speculate that it’s bummed that CEO Eric Schmidt and company didn’t show a higher revenue lift. But if you’re keeping track, revenue is up 17 percent compared with last year, and up 12 percent from the previous quarter.

Here is Citigroup (C) analyst Mark Mahaney’s “cheatsheet” for those playing at home (click to enlarge):

google cheat sheet

And you can see the company’s profit and loss and balance sheet here.

Google will be using YouTube to livestream its earnings call, but I’ll be providing some annotation here starting at 4:30 pm Eastern. You can also check out the company’s accompanying slide presentation here, and here’s a chart it’s particularly proud of (click to enlarge):

google revenue chart

I’m trying out a promising new liveblog tool, but please bear with me if there are bumps along the way.

On the call: CEO Eric Schmidt, CFO Patrick Pichette, product guy Jonathan Rosenberg, sales boss Nikesh Arora. No Larry or Sergey.

Schmidt declares that he’s very pleased with Q4: “An extraordinary end to a roller coaster year.”

Schmidt: Clearly, we were right to start ramping up investments and will continue to do so. We’re investing in people and investing in tech based on our “70/20/10” rule: 70 percent in core products, 20 percent in new business like mobile/Android, and 10 percent in “long view” initiatives like commerce and social.

And of course, more mergers and acquisitions. We’re continuing on a pace of roughly one M&A per month, some small, some big.

Pichette runs through the numbers in the release above. He reiterates Schmidt’s line about continuing investments.

Jonathan Rosenberg has a cold, but gets his message across: “We made some very hard decisions” to shut down some products to focus on winners. It’s our “more wood behind fewer arrows approach.” We’re focusing on DoubleClick integration, Android expansion and the Chrome OS. “YouTube, is in fact, monetizing well,” and we hope our partners make money, too.

Obviously, going forward, we’re going to plow resources into search. But other stuff too. Social, for instance. Not just social networking, but all of our products should be “social.” This can apply to search, local search, etc. We’re also focusing on commerce, whether people are making their purchases online or offline.

More Rosenberg: Mobile is important, and so is moving enterprise to the cloud.

Arora: We improved throughout the year, and Q4 was strong. Large companies like Staples (SPLS) and Volvo are directing an increasing portion of spending online [as they’re supposed to do].

Arora: Search ads are always a value in December! Costs go up but they get more effective because people buy more.

Arora: Brand marketers are increasing their spending too. YouTube has had many successful brand campaigns. Have you seen Fox’s “Avatar” ads? They’re great. Other shoutouts for Sony (SNE) and American Express (AXP).

Arora: Most of the top networks have signed onto AdX ad exchange since we launched it in the fall.

Time for Q&A.

Google’s U.S. revenue had a big jump, but international revenue did not accelerate as quickly. What gives?

Arora: In the U.S., we saw large advertisers shifting offline to online. Other markets have different issues; hence, the different growth rates.

Are we back to normal in regard to seasonal patterns? Also, can you talk about “materiality” of mobile?

Pichette: We won’t talk about mobile revenue in any concrete way.

Arora: There is some different performance by vertical. Finance, obviously, isn’t as strong as it used to be.

Another question about mobile: Is Google trying to push revenue? Profitability? Also, please talk about China.

Rosenberg: Advertisers are starting to figure out what works on mobile. For instance, adding a phone number or an offer for mobile helps a lot.

Pichette: Regarding mobile, we want to drive innovation that in turn drives people to the Web, which is better for us. That’s the core engine of mobile.

Schmidt: “China stuff has been well-covered in the press,” the CEO notes before recounting the China story. “We’re in conversations with the Chinese government,” and our business has remained unchanged. “But in a reasonably short time, we’ll be making some changes there.” That said, we’d still like to be in China.

Missed a question. Apologies.

Please talk about outperformance of network business vs. owned and operated. Also, what accounts for higher marketing costs?

Pichette: Nothing to talk about re: network versus O&O. Re expenses, we said we were going to ramp up investment and we put in more there because we can track the results and the return on investment.

Arora: Yep, some of that money was to support consumer launches.

You said search increased five times on mobile. So what does that mean for revenue per search? Also, please talk more about increased spending on marketing.

Pichette: We’re really pleased with the marketing experiments we’re running.

Rosenberg: Regarding mobile, the new formats, targeting tools and reporting we’re giving mobile advertisers is making a huge difference. But I won’t answer your question about revenue.

Missed another question here.

YouTube monetization: Can you give us some metrics on how much inventory you’re selling?

Arora: Nope. But it has “gone from being a nice-to-have” to essential.

Pichette: The Youtube homepage nearly sold out in Q4. Hope that’s useful.

Can you break out ad spending by advertiser size?

Arora: Large advertisers are moving online, which is good. Retail was strong in Q4. We’re working with smaller advertisers to “bring them into the fray.” But the discrepancy so far has been mainly seasonal.

Can you rank your core businesses in terms of growth potential? Also, what’s up with you and Apple (AAPL)?

Schmidt: We’ve been saying for a while that display is a big opportunity. One story you haven’t seen so far is how successful we’ve been in display, but that will come out in 2010. [Note to PR staff: Start pitching!]

And obviously, mobile is small now but will grow quickly.

“With respect to Apple, it’s probably better to say”…that as a former board member “I have a special spot for Apple in my heart.” They’re a very well run company and “they have some very good stuff coming” strong competitor, etc.

Schmidt on Nexus One: What it is really about is a new way of buying a phone. Nexus One itself is the first in a series of examples where you can buy the phone online and pick your carrier.

Is Bing having an impact on cost per click?

Rosenberg: We think out CPCs are generally not affected by competitors. Prices are set by buyers.

Can you talk about Nexus One’s impact on margin?

Pichette. Not really. We want to innovate, etc. Nexus One will have its own margin and that’s how we’re focused on building the business.

We’ve seen third-party data on mobile projecting that iPhone could account for 50 percent of mobile traffic. Does that make sense to you? Also, you have said that the Apple relationship is “stable.” So what are the odds that you’re going to continue to provide search on the iPhone?

Schmidt: We won’t talk about the market share of Apple. And we won’t “speculate about any deals of any kind–true, not true, rumored, not rumored.”

Given that new display products are so great, is there any notion that people are moving dollars from search to display?

Schmidt: Advertisers “don’t shift, they add.” They might maximize search to maximize revenue and they might spend on display for long-term growth, branding, etc.

Pichette thanks Googlers listening for all their hard work. There’s an auxilary call at 6 pm Eastern with Pichette and Rosenberg, but I won’t be able to cover that one.

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There’s a lot of attention and PR around Marissa, but their product lineup just kind of blows.

— Om Malik on Bloomberg TV, talking about Yahoo, the September issue of Vogue Magazine, and our overdependence on Google