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Google's Other Bets Eat Up Less Cash (And Make Less Money) Than We Thought

Moonshots in the mirror may be smaller than they appear.

Asa Mathat / Re/code

Here is one thing to note about the non-Google parts of Alphabet, now the world’s largest company: They’re smaller than you think.

The company’s newly disclosed figures in its earnings report on Monday showed that Google Inc. — home still to ample real estate, data centers and pricey researchers — is a bigger drain on the parent company’s expenses than the eight other enterprises in its Other Bets bucket.

But the Other Bets are also making far less money than observers thought, too.

Revenue from the companies-not-named-Google totaled $448 million for 2015, and $327 million for 2014. On the earnings call, Alphabet and Google CFO Ruth Porat said most of those came from three operations: Fiber, Nest and Verily, formerly known as Google Life Sciences.

Makes sense. These are three of the units with any type of sales stream. Porat politely referred to the others on the call as “pre-revenue.”

“My main point here is that we remain on a journey and it is still early days,” the double-duty CFO said. “We are working diligently to build additional businesses that create long-term revenues, profits and value.”

Earnings from Alphabet’s two investment vehicles, Capital and GV, are not in the revenue bucket but in the consolidated line for other income. (Incidentally, that fell dramatically — from a $128 million gain in 2014 to a $180 million loss in 2015. That could reflect sharp losses from the venture investments; it also could not.)

But some analysts had assumed that the Alphabet units bringing in revenue were bringing in more than they are. Before the earnings release, RBC’s Mark Mahaney estimated that Nest, the connected device company Google acquired for $3.2 billion, would bring in $672 million in 2015. Robert Peck, from SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, had a lower guess — around $450 million. Peck put 2015 revenue from Fiber, the broadband business breaking ground in 18 cities, at about $156 million; Mahaney had $99 million.

Nobody outside of Alphabet’s top ranks has much of clue of the sales of Verily, which has cut deals with seven medical companies since its birth inside Google X in 2013.

Even if it’s close to zero, the blind-dart projections for Nest and Fiber were too high. That may indicate that those operations, which have been around since 2010 and 2011, respectively, aren’t getting as much traction as the industry thinks. It is hard to see, even, if one is particularly weaker than the other.

Fiber did come up frequently on the earnings call, however. Porat declined to offer details on where the service was expanding to next. Instead, she reiterated that the labor-intensive project would be the main driver for the capital expenditure of the Other Bets, which grew by 75 percent in 2015 to $889 million.

Asked about Nest on the call, Porat eschewed specifics. The company has a plan, she answered, without sharing it. “They’re just executing against that business plan,” she said.

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