Google

The market clearly has a lot to think about on Google. Latterly it has all been about regulation. The recent US antitrust kerfuffle has been fanned by the prospect of a new Biden administration, and what policies those in the left of the party might try and bounce their man into. Now the antitrust complaint has merits. It would be easy to think that Google is the internet, such is its dominance in search. It controls 90% of the market. That said, given the service it provides – which is so superior to peers – it is not obvious as to how consumers would be better off with a more regulated search market. The investment required in keeping the whole operation at the cutting edge of AI, is not insignificant. They do a good job. The problem really zeros in on their perceived control of the online ad market. They, alongside Facebook, are seen to be it. That is, however, not quite true, with the likes of Pinterest, Snapchat, Amazon all busy mobilising, and looking to take market share. Google also writes Apple a decent cheque each year to be the search engine of choice on any new phones; a relationship too cosy for some. That said for Google, if this was decreed to be a no-no, the $8bn they currently pay would fall straight through to the bottom line. And new phone owners would likely end up installing Google anyway. How to iron out all the creases in the linen is not, then, immediately straightforward; perhaps tighter regulations, perhaps a break up, perhaps something else. Whatever the outcome it is likely to be a drawn out affair and may, even, not end up being that bad for shareholders. The shares meanwhile, bullied by these regulatory fears, are cheap. Too cheap, perhaps, given recent results which saw a recovery come through far stronger than the market expected, both in search and, importantly given market chatter, at YouTube. Margins too, had a pleasing sheen to them. The 14% revenue growth was all the more impressive given up to 20% of the revenue mix comes from leisure, which remained depressed given widespread restrictions. Looking out, Google could continue to grow revenues circa 20% per annum over coming years, and those margins have further upside as they scale in some of the high growth areas like cloud. Current share price multiples, even in the context of the regulatory and political mood, in our opinion look too cheap. Possibly, a long way too cheap.