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Alphabet – earnings beat and first-ever dividend

Alphabet’s first-quarter results were better than expected and the news of its first-ever dividend has been taken well.
Alphabet - misses advertising expectations

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Alphabet's first quarter results were better than expected. Revenue rose 16% to $80.5bn, ignoring the effect of exchange rates. The group's core advertising business, where Google Search & other is the biggest contributor, saw revenue rise from $54.5bn to $61.7bn. Google Cloud revenue was up to $9.6bn from $7.5bn.

Operating profit was up 46% to $25.4bn, reflecting an improved contribution from Google Cloud and strong cost control. Margins rose 7 percentage points to 32%.

Free cashflow generated was $16.8bn, while Alphabet had net cash of $94.9bn as at the end of March, down from $97.5bn at the year end.

Alphabet announced its first-ever dividend of $0.20 per share alongside a $70bn stock buyback. It plans to pay quarterly cash dividends going forward.

The shares rose 11.4% in after-hours trading.

Our view

Alphabet’s started the year well, with results coming in ahead of market expectations. That includes Google Cloud, which has kicked on from its recent milestone of hitting profitability. We think there's room for continued growth, especially as demand for cloud-hosted AI services grows and companies look to optimise their processes and protect margins. But we're mindful that this landscape is very competitive, and there's no guarantee that Alphabet will be the one with the winner's rosette at the end.

Investors also reacted well to the introduction of Alphabet’s first-ever dividend. At the initial rate, this should total around $10bn annually. Although the announced dividend of $0.20 per share represents a modest 0.5% yield, it’s a significant milestone as it joins the small cohort of Magnificent Seven who offer investors an income.

The tech giant is an advertising business at its core. Marketers spend handsomely to put their products and services in front of Google and YouTube's captive audiences. Advertising revenue growth had looked like it might be softening as the market matured, but first-quarter performance, especially from YouTube helped to show that for now, this isn’t the case.

One area to monitor is to what extent generative AI is diluting the potency of Alphabet's platforms. Search engine culture risks being upended. We're a long way from knowing how this will play out, but it's something Alphabet bears are keeping a close eye on.

For now, we're optimistic Alphabet will retain its edge. Customers are about as sticky as they come. And the flipside of AI for Alphabet is that the technology could help generate more personalised and powerful ads, ultimately attracting and retaining more marketing dollars. For now, this is still in the testing phase.

Despite the exciting opportunities, we expect the path to prosperity to be a bumpy one. It's also going to be very expensive, with capital expenditure set to rocket. These are things investors should keep in mind.

Competition authorities remain something to be aware of. Alphabet isn't a stranger to substantial fines, and we can't rule out the risk of further action from authorities in the future if the group's dominance strays too far.

Competition with peers is also heating up, with the rise of short-form videos from the likes of TikTok or Instagram reels vying for Alphabet's important YouTube viewers. At this point, the numbers aren’t giving investors anything to worry about, but it's an area we’re watching closely.

It's easy to debate the threats and opportunities of this tech giant, but the fact of the matter is, Alphabet has $94.9bn in net cash languishing on the balance sheet. That means it's currently more than able to stomach some disruption and return some cash to shareholders too, though there are no guarantees.

Alphabet key facts

All ratios are sourced from Refinitiv, based on previous day’s closing values. Please remember yields are variable and not a reliable indicator of future income. Keep in mind key figures shouldn’t be looked at on their own – it’s important to understand the big picture.

This article is original Hargreaves Lansdown content, published by Hargreaves Lansdown. It was correct as at the date of publication, and our views may have changed since then. Unless otherwise stated estimates, including prospective yields, are a consensus of analyst forecasts provided by Refinitiv. These estimates are not a reliable indicator of future performance. Yields are variable and not guaranteed. Investments rise and fall in value so investors could make a loss.

This article is not advice or a recommendation to buy, sell or hold any investment.No view is given on the present or future value or price of any investment, and investors should form their own view on any proposed investment.This article has not been prepared in accordance with legal requirements designed to promote the independence of investment research and is considered a marketing communication.Non - independent research is not subject to FCA rules prohibiting dealing ahead of research, however HL has put controls in place(including dealing restrictions, physical and information barriers) to manage potential conflicts of interest presented by such dealing.Please see our full non - independent research disclosure for more information.
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Written by
Guy Lawson-Johns
Equity Analyst

Guy works as an Equity Analyst within the share research team, delivering current research and analysis on individual companies as well as broader sectors.

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Article history
Published: 26th April 2024