10.18.12

Google Accidentally Releases Disappointing Earnings, Stock Plummets

Google was supposed to announce third-quarter earnings Thursday afternoon. Instead, it put out an unfinished release documenting surprisingly poor results.

Google might have one of the world’s most popular web-based email services, but that didn’t stop Google's document filing firm, R.R. Donnelley & Sons, from filing their disappointing quarterly earnings with the Securities and Exchange Commission ahead of this afternoon’s scheduled announcement. The release, which included at the top, “PENDING LARRY QUOTE” ("Larry" referring to Google cofounder and CEO Larry Page), was supposed to come out after trading closed Thursday. Instead, it came out in the middle of the day. And—the results were worse than expected. This doublefail sent Google stock into a freefall. Google put the blame on R.R. Donnelley & Sons, a printing firm that had prepared the release, but Google is the only one to blame for what is inside the premature report.

Google’s stock price fell from just above $754 to around $687 in less than an hour following the inadvertent announcement. The NASDAQ stock exchange then halted trades for Google following the 9 percent drop.

Earnings came in at $9.03 a share, excluding some expenses, well short of analysts’ expectations of $10.65, while revenue for the third quarter was $11.33 billion (expectations were for $11.83 billion). Google had $7.73 billion in revenues from sites it owns, a 15 percent increase from third quarter 2011. Google’s reported operating income, less some expenses, was $3.8 billion. Its non-adjusted profit of $2.74 billion for the quarter was decline of more than $250 million from last quarter’s unadjusted profit of $3.06 billion.

The news looks even worse as Google’s profit fell because making money has become more expensive.

The news looks even worse as Google’s profit fell because making money has become more expensive. The unadjusted profit this quarter was only 19 percent of revenues as compared to 31 percent of revenues for the third quarter of 2011. It simply seems to be costing more for Google to get a dollar of revenues. So-called traffic-acquisitions costs (TAC), or many paid to websites that drive traffic to Google ads, rose to $2.77 billion this quarter from $2.21 billion a year ago. TAC as a percentage of total ad revenue rose from 24 percent in the third quarter of 2011 to 26 percent in the current quarter.

The other major expense that marred the earnings report was Motorola, which Google acquired last May for $12.5 billion. Motorola’s adjusted operating loss for the quarter was $151 million. Google announced 4,000 layoffs at Motorola in August.

Earnings season provides a lesson in the nature of surprises: companies are pegged not so much to how much money they make, but whether they can manage to beat the expectations of the stock analysts who study them. Google missed these expectations. Worse, it couldn’t get the timing right.