Yandex (NASDAQ:YNDX) announced fourth-quarter 2014 results this morning, and the market is rightly pleased. Shares of the Russian Internet search leader climbed 8% in Wednesday's early trading after it said quarterly revenue rose 21% year over year, to 14.7 billion Russian rubles, or RUR, or $260.7 million based on the quarter's foreign exchange rates. That translated to adjusted net income of 4.0 billion RUR , or 23.44 RUR per diluted share, which is roughly $70.5 million and $0.42 per share, respectively. Analysts, on average, were only expecting earnings of RUR 12.63 per share on roughly the same revenue.
But Yandex's business is about much more than just revenue and earnings. That's why I posed three questions to help give investors greater perspective going into the report. Here are Yandex's answers:
Are tensions in Russia hurting Yandex's core business?
First, I wanted to know how badly the geopolitical and macroeconomic situation in Russia has, and is expected to, hurt Yandex's core advertising business. If Russia's economy suffers for any meaningful length of time, it could negatively affect ad spending in the region. For now, Yandex is faring reasonably well based on its solid fourth-quarter results.
Yandex added 17,000 advertisers during the quarter, bringing its total to 317,000, and revenue from text-based advertising grew 22% year over year during the quarter to roughly 13.24 billion RUR, or 90.2% of total revenue. That includes a 24% gain from Yandex-owned websites, and a 16% increase from its ad network, the latter of which contributed around 22% of total revenue.
In addition, display advertising climbed a modest 3% year over year, to 1.18 billion RUR, including a 2% decline at Yandex websites, and a 34% gain from its ad network. Meanwhile, aggregate paid clicks increased 18% year over year, while average cost per click in Q4 grew 3%.
This time, however, Yandex management tactfully broke its usual silence regarding tensions in the region. Yandex CEO Arkady Volozh stated:
The company performed well in the fourth quarter and demonstrated another full year of excellent results, despite the difficult macroeconomic environment. We continue to develop our existing services and products as well as new business models, such as the recently launched Yandex Data Factory. Although we face challenging economic headwinds, including substantial currency fluctuations, we are managing Yandex for the long term. We will continue to improve monetization, pursue cost efficiencies in our core business and manage our forex exposure, while investing into critical growth areas such as mobile and advertising technologies.
Consequently, Yandex decided not to offer full-year 2015 guidance, opting instead to stick with quarterly guidance for now. For the first quarter, Yandex expects revenue to grow approximately 15%, or just shy of analysts' consensus, which calls for growth of 16.9%.
On maintaining market share
Next, in light of those economic headwinds, I wanted to know whether Yandex was continuing to fend off well-funded rivals like Google (NASDAQ:GOOG)(NASDAQ:GOOGL). Big G, for its part, has continued to solidify its No. 2 position in Russia by taking market share in recent quarters, and Q4 was no different. While Yandex was still the undisputed Russian search leader in Q4 with a share of 59.7% (including mobile), it was another sequential decline from 60.3% last quarter, 61.6% in Q2, and 61.9% during the fourth quarter of 2013.
But Yandex isn't taking Google's encroachment sitting down. Today, it also filed an antitrust complaint against Google over what it describes as anti-competitive practices related to the bundling of Google's search engine and apps into Android, which is easily Russia's most popular mobile operating system. Of course, that bundling is no surprise considering Google owns Android. But Yandex says that in 2014, three smartphone vendors -- Prestigio, Fly, and Explay -- informed it they are no longer able to pre-install Yandex services on their Android devices.
According to an excerpt of the complaint, Yandex specifically insists: "We believe that user-centric services, such as search, maps, email, etc., should be unbundled from the Android OS. It is essential to return to a level playing field where competition is over quality of products and services rather than bundling and pre-installation."
Updates on supplementary businesses
Finally, I wanted to know if Yandex would offer updates on its progress in diversifying the business away from its core advertising revenue stream. In addition to the multiple services Yandex launched in Q3, including its Yandex.Master e-commerce platform and a relaunched Yandex-Music service, in Q4, it debuted Yandex Data Factory, a new business-to-business venture specializing in big data solutions for both local and international businesses and research institutions. Yandex also launched the alpha version of its new Yandex.Browser, a minimalist concept browser with a bold new user interface that removes the usual buttons, address bars and other clutter users have come to accept over the years.
We can also note revenue in Yandex's "Other" category rose 156%, to 251 million RUR. But that still represents a small slice of Yandex's overall revenue, as the majority of its diversification efforts are still in the early stages.
In the end, however, Yandex investors are rightly encouraged by these efforts, which effectively capped a solid year despite Russia's economic challenges. Taken together with the potential of its antitrust move to fend off Google, and it's no surprise shares of Yandex are trading higher today.