Google has a shiny new name. But investor concerns remain the same.
The most valuable Internet business adopted the name Alphabet (GOOGL) in August and turned the Google brand into a subsidiary, alongside other separate units that house the company’s self-driving car, fiber and health projects.
The plan is to give investors greater clarity into the performance of specific businesses while providing more autonomy to the far-out efforts to extend life and expand the Internet via hot air balloons.
As Alphabet prepares to announce quarterly results for the first time on Thursday, investors are still asking the same question they’ve been pondering for years: Where does the company excel outside of search?
Search, of course, is the juggernaut that’s propelled Google for 17 years into a company with more than $60 billion a year in revenue and a stock market value that tops $450 billion.
To maintain a growth rate in the mid- to high teens, Alphabet needs to parlay its search dominance into the greater realm of digital advertising. Investments in mobile display ads, new customized targeted offerings that compete with Facebook (FB) and app install promotions have to show results.
And then there’s YouTube. The video platform that Google acquired in 2006 is expected to increase revenue 41 percent this year to $4.3 billion, according to eMarketer, as big brands attempt to reach the site’s billion users.
“YouTube has a compelling pitch that is working with large brand advertisers and advertising agencies,” Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst at Rosenblatt Securities, wrote in a report this month. “We think that YouTube gains market share from large-brand advertisers’ spending.”
Pyykkonen has a “buy” rating on the stock and $750 price target, 10 percent higher than Tuesday’s closing price of $680.
Analysts expect Alphabet to report third-quarter revenue growth of 12 percent from a year earlier to $18.5 billion, according to a survey from Thomson Reuters. Earnings per share likely increased to $5.77 from $4.09.
Not until the fourth quarter will Alphabet begin breaking out its separate units, so Wall Street will have to digest this week’s report just as it has in the past.
Still, there are plenty of questions for Alphabet to answer, much of it surrounding the company’s mobile efforts.
In July, Google introduced a way for app developers to pay for discovery in the Google Play store. For example, someone searching for hotel booking within the app store may see a Booking.com install ad. The company has also increased the number of ads it shows on many mobile search pages to three from two.
And last month, Alphabet announced Customer Match, letting brands upload customer email addresses so, with the help of Google’s data, they can reach their fans whether on search, Gmail or YouTube. “From there, you can build campaigns and ads specifically designed to reach your audience,” Google said in a blog post.
Just this week, Yahoo said that it’s employing Google’s search engine for ads on desktop and mobile in a revenue-sharing agreement.
Mobile is critical as desktop search is withering, with more queries now happening on smartphones than on the bigger screens. The transition is challenging for Google because the mobile world is much more disparate than the PC-based Internet. Consumers go straight to their favorite apps and follow links they come across on Facebook, Twitter (TWTR) and Pinterest, often removing Google from the equation.
Despite its hurdles, Google’s prospects are strong enough that JMP Securities analyst Ronald Josey not only recommends buying the shares but forecasts a jump to $847.
“Overall, it remains one of the most innovative companies globally, is very well positioned across almost every growth driver on the Internet, and with the expected new Alphabet structure with segment reporting beginning in 4Q15, we believe is the company is better positioned to invest and continue to grow,” Josey wrote in a report this month.
Written by Ari Levy of CNBC