Thoughts on Google earnings for Q2 2014

Last quarter, I did a series of posts on big consumer tech companies’ earnings. You can see the full series here. I’m kicking off my thoughts on Q2 earnings with Google, which reported this afternoon. Last quarter’s post on Google is here, and I’ll revisit some of the themes from last time, along with some new ones.

Ad metrics – more detail highlights different trajectories

As promised, Google provided a little more detail on its key ad metrics: growth in the number of paid clicks, and the price per click. Previously, it’s only provided growth numbers for the ad business as a whole, but this time around it broke the metrics down by Google’s own websites (Sites) and third parties (Network). What Google actually reports is quarter on quarter and year on year growth rates, which are all over the place, and so hard to read. I find it makes things a lot more interesting to pick a point in time and then index results back to that point using the sequential quarterly growth rates, as shown in the charts below.

The first chart shows the aggregate rate, which Google has reported for a long time, and I’ve indexed it to Q2 2011, as that’s when the price per click started to fall, a pattern that has essentially continued ever since, although prices have started to flatten in the last couple of quarters:

Google aggregate ad metrics Q2 2014Now, here’s the same indexed approach using the splits Google provided for the first time today. It only provided a few quarters of history, unfortunately, so there’s less context here:

Google detailed ad metrics Q2 2014With the help of this additional data, we can see that prices have actually been falling both on Google’s own sites and on partner sites, by similar rates. The two have traded places a couple of times in the chart, but the net effect is similar. However, what’s very different is the rate of growth in the number of clicks. Google’s own sites have seen a far greater rate of growth than its partners’ sites have. Though not a perfect proxy, these two segments are decent indicators of the difference between trends in search and display advertising, since Google’s own site results are likely dominated by search, whereas partners’ sites are almost all display based. This is interesting in the context of Yahoo’s results from earlier this week, which provided the following data (also indexed, though sadly only on a year on year basis):

Yahoo Search and DIsplay metrics indexed to Q2 2012Yahoo’s problem is different: it’s seeing a dramatic reduction in Display ad pricing year on year, but saw a decent increase in search pricing year on year. But it’s also seen a good increase in the number of ads sold year on year in Display. There’s a quick summary of the similarities and differences in the table below:

Yahoo vs Google ad metric trendsThe point remains, however, that Search metrics are healthier than Display metrics for the most part, especially on the pricing side. But two fundamental trends are working against both companies: more competition in Display, and a shift to mobile, where some competitors have a stronger position. Google is fortunate to have such a strong business in search – Yahoo, not so much.

Revenue growth numbers flow from these metrics

Naturally, if you combine prices and volumes you have some sense of what’s happening to revenues, although it’s not as simple as just multiplying one by the other, for a variety of reasons. But here’s Google’s growth for its two advertising revenue categories:

Google ad revenue growth

Network revenues are growing much more slowly than Google Site revenues, though with Site revenues a much greater proportion of the total (about 75%), they drive the overall growth rate for ad revenues. Network revenue growth has actually recovered somewhat in the last few quarters, having briefly dipped to zero late last year. But overall, Google Sites revenue is up 45% over the last two years, while Network revenue is up just 15%.

The fastest growing business isn’t advertising at all

Though these two businesses make up 90% of core Google revenues, they’re not the fastest growing by a long stretch: that would be the Other category. That business is growing at around 50% year on year two quarters in a row now, following some dramatic ups and downs in previous years:

Google other revenue growthWhat is “Other”? Well, it’s everything that isn’t ad based, but at Google that encompasses quite a bit. But the major driver of growth in recent quarters has been the Play store, mostly apps and to a lesser extent content sales. I dug into this a little bit in this post. It’s the major component of revenues in the Other category at this point, and growing fast.

Massive investment in people and infrastructure

Google reports so little detail about its revenues that it’s hard to glean much more from it than what I’ve shown above. But headcount and capital expenditures point to an interesting trend over recent quarters: a massive ramping up of investment in both people and infrastructure.

Let’s look at headcount first. The charts below show a couple of different metrics. Here is the increase in headcount in real terms year on year and quarter on quarter. Note that Google added roughly 8,400 employees in the past year. In June 2006, it had just 7,900 employees in total (it now has 48,600 in the core Google segment).

Google headcount growth y on y and q on q

What you can see is that we’re in the third major boom in hiring at Google since its IPO. The first was in 2007, but was cut short by the recession, which forced Google to reduce headcount for several quarters. The second lasted from 2010 to 2012 as it staffed back up following the recession. But this is the biggest hiring spree yet. The number of employees added in the past four quarters is greater than at any other period in Google’s history. However, it’s been very good at keeping revenue per employee constant, as shown in the chart below, which shows annual revenue divided by average employees during the year:

Google revenue per employee - annualThough there have been some fluctuations over time, there’s both an impressively narrow range overall (between $1.1 and $1.3 million), and decent growth over the past two years. Even with all the hiring Google is doing, the new employees are generating as much revenue as the existing ones. Here’s another way to look at the growth:

Google revenue growth in percentWhen you look at quarterly growth as a percent of the employee base, Google seems to be settling in at around 5% growth per quarter. Among the four big consumer tech companies (Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft), only Amazon is hiring faster. Apple added about the same number of employees in the past year, but on a much bigger base of around 80 thousand.

The other area where Google is investing is capital. Capex has risen very strongly over the past couple of years, both in real terms and as a percentage of revenues:

Google capex trends

Motorola introduces a wrinkle which likely affects the figures a little, but it doesn’t distort the clear overall picture: Google is spending much more on capital expenditures than it has in the recent past. It’s also far surpassed the other big tech companies in capital intensity:Capital intensity for four major tech businessesAccording to the earnings commentary, this spending was largely driven by data center investments, presumably to support Google’s Cloud Engine and related businesses. But it’s still a massive investment in the context of what competitors are spending as a percentage of revenue. For the last year, it’s also outspent the other three in dollar terms. Amazon has also been spending enormous amounts on capex compared to its historical levels, but nothing like what Google is now spending.

Google continues to keep quiet about what matters most

Despite all this analysis, there are still two major Google businesses we know almost nothing about from a financial perspective: mobile and YouTube. These two combined likely make up a significant chunk of Google’s overall revenues, and the degree to which they are growing are going to hugely affect Google’s overall growth rates. But it gives absolutely zero data on how either of them is performing, despite detailed reporting from Facebook, Twitter and others on their mobile usage and revenues. As such, Google continues to be something of a mystery, despite what we can glean from the numbers they do report.







  • nuttmedia

    Great summary! Makes the most of what little disclosure GOOG provides to the market. Happy to finally have some color on Google/Network. We discussed some of the downward pressures on Network via Twitter, but it would also be interesting to speculate on what is behind the steady climb in Google property clicks—which ostensibly has kept the franchise moving forward; YouTube certainly is part of that equation, which folds nicely with the proliferation of Android devices and the popularity of Chromecast. I just wonder about sustainability.

    Good focus on “Other” as something to watch. From that nascent category, Google’s future must emerge, be it Nest, Play, or a robot army; incidentally, also likely an outsized contributor to your aforementioned capex spikes.

    As Pichette mentioned in today’s call, hardware projects (higher capital intensity) have a longer ROI horizon (5-10 years) than their core strength (software); we should expect more margin noise for the foreseeable future as they lay their bet on this more difficult arena.

  • jwan584

    Two typos:
    “The second lasted from 2020 to 2012” (2010 to 2012 I presume)
    “Apple added about the same number of employees in the past year, but on a much bigger base of around 80 million.” (80k?)

  • Max Mautner

    Why are Google executives permitted to be less transparent about their mobile and YouTube numbers than Facebook/Twitter?

    • It’s been a matter of discussion with the SEC, but I guess so far they’ve been able to convince them to continue to let them get away with minimal disclosure. Amazon is another company that discloses very little about its segments. The irony being that Apple, which is generally so secretive, provides lots of data about how its segments / products perform (with the exception of margins by segment). Every company discloses a combination of the minimum it can get away with and other metrics they think help to tell the story they want to tell.