Alphabet is leading Communication Services stocks lower Wednesday (alongside a broader market downturn and a report from Microsoft) Wednesday – (NASDAQ:GOOG) -3.7% (NASDAQ:GOOGL) -3.8% – as reactions roll in to the news that Google is facing a second major antitrust suit from the federal government.
For the most part, analysts don’t see Google suffering major financial consequences from the new suit – and at least not anytime soon.
“This regulatory risk likely carries only modest fundamental risk – in terms of heightened overhead expenses (legal fees, regulatory compliance expenses), management distraction, and possible ad market demand tentativeness,” Evercore ISI’s Mark Mahaney said. “So the risk is less to the E than to the P/E.”
“But it is real, and is not going away anytime soon,” he adds, noting that one distinct outcome may be Google being forced or enticed to spin off the Ad Network business, which makes up some 15% of ad revenue and 12% of total revenue. Depending on how such a spin is structure, though, it “could well be a neutral event for GOOGL shareholders.”
Who could benefit from such pressure, according to Mahaney? The Trade Desk (TTD), Amazon.com (AMZN), Magnite (MGNI), and PubMatic (PUBM) are demand side or ad exchange/network competitors who could come out positive; Meta Platforms (META) is a massively scaled ad platform that “doesn’t objectively face nearly as much antitrust scrutiny”; and even Apple (AAPL) is an “intriguing derivative” given Apple’s efforts to expand into ad solutions.
Wells Fargo analyst Brian Fitzgerald agrees that Trade Desk (TTD) could be a beneficiary of a “pattern of conduct against advertiser interests,” but that the lawsuit isn’t likely to have material financial consequences for Alphabet.
JMP analyst Andrew Boone sees the development as most positive for independent demand-side platforms, including not only The Trade Desk but also Viant (DSP) and Tremor (TRMR). Still, “the impacts to Google’s larger, core businesses (search and YouTube) are likely minimal.”
“This bark is unlikely to meaningfully bite equity value,” Rosenblatt says, noting the rulings and appeals process will take years.
MKM Partners analyst Rohit Kulkarni said there is not likely to be any “medium-term fundamental issues due to these regulatory headwinds,” but it could keep Alphabet’s stock “range-bound” for 2023.
A number of those reactions are predicated on the company mounting a strong defense – and for its part, Alphabet says the case is without merit and that it will “defend itself vigorously.”
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