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Google CEO Sundar Pichai Makes Wall Street Debut on Earnings Call

It's Alphabet now, but we have to wait another quarter before we see it.

Justin Sullivan | Getty Images

Later today, Alphabet, Google’s holding company, will report its third-quarter earnings, the first since Alphabet has existed. Don’t hold your breath, though. The thing investors are clamoring for, when Alphabet splits its reporting in two — the profit center (Google) and the costs (all the rest) — is not happening until January, when it reports its fourth-quarter results.

Yet today will mark the first time new Google CEO Sundar Pichai will be on the analyst call, Re/code has learned. He will join CFO Ruth Porat, who made her own debut last quarter. It was a very good one: Google walloped expectations, posting sales of $14.35 billion, spurring the largest one-day stock rally ever, a bump attributed largely to Porat’s pledges of financial discipline.

Analysts are mostly bullish on this quarter, though not overwhelmingly so. The consensus is $15.04 billion in revenue (after money paid out to partner sites) on $7.21 earnings per share.

Pichai and Porat will likely field several questions about Alphabet. (And they may answer few.) But they’ll also face some of the regular queries on the health and direction of the familiar search, ads and Android businesses. A trio of areas to watch for:

Mobile, Mobile, Mobile

The bearish case on Google is that the company is masking a precipitous decline in its core business due to the shift to mobile. Its execs have countered this — a bit. Last quarter, they stressed that the money-making gap between desktop and mobile devices is shrinking and trotted out some (months stale) stats on mobile YouTube viewership: Mobile viewership tops all cable networks combined. Still, one of the main growth metrics we have on search, cost-per-click, is on a steady decline — it fell 11 percent year-on-year last quarter.

Expect Google to devote attention to its progress in indexing apps for search, one of its key efforts on mobile. At the recent Code/Mobile Conference, Google’s search boss, Amit Singhal, announced the company had indexed over 100 billion pages within apps, although he did not detail how that will spell revenue growth. Another likely mobile focus for Pichai: The uptake of the Google Photos app, which hit 100 million monthly users this week after premiering in May.

Red and Play

For many people in and around Google’s ad business, the big sources of growth are its app store and YouTube. On Wednesday, Google rolled out YouTube Red, its $9.99 monthly subscription service. (Of course, Re/code readers knew about this last week.) Expect that to get some attention, along with the video service’s deeper integration this quarter with Google’s ad tools on search and display.

Play Store is another story Google wants to tell as a success. It recently added paid ads and continues to expand its media offerings to compete with Apple. Google doesn’t break out Play Store earnings, but says it’s the lion’s share of the “other revenues” line item. Last quarter, that item, $1.7 billion, registered annual growth of around 17 percent, nearly twice as large as overall revenue. However, people familiar with the business say its margins, like YouTube’s, are nowhere near those from search.

Weight of the Alphabet

Speaking of margins: The expectation from Wall Street once Alphabet breaks out its other businesses — Google X, Fiber, Nest, Sidewalk Labs, its two health care and two investment arms — from Google Inc., the margins on Google Inc will look even meatier. Until then, analysts will use today’s spending figures to grok the weight of the Alphabet moonshots.

They will watch capital expenditure, which fell last quarter after rising for years. Carlos Kirjner, a Bernstein analyst, estimates that the Alphabet businesses, sans Google, will drop up to $1.5 billion a year in operating losses; other analysts peg it at twice that. Here’s a look at the history of the company’s operating expenses.

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Investors may also look at headcount. In the Spring quarter, Google added around 2,000 employees for a total of 57,148. Kirjner wrote in a note its total this time is “a good proxy for the future evolution of operating expenses at Alphabet.” That may be true, although some of Alphabet’s businesses, like its Fiber broadband one, rely on a ton of contractors, who do not appear in headcount numbers.

Also, Porat has promised discipline — this quarter, she began holding court with investors to make this case. But she has not promised to curb spending absolutely. Headcount, she said last earnings call, usually goes up in the third quarter because of the influx of newly hired graduates.

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