It wasn't long ago that some investors and industry pundits were bemoaning Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) (NASDAQ:GOOGL) forays into far-flung enterprises like Glass and self-driving cars, and the negative impact -- real or imagined -- these would have on its bottom line results.
Toss in the many positive moves Google's primary digital ad competitor Facebook has been making of late, including the advent of video ads, monetizing Instagram, and even rumors of incorporating music videos to directly compete with YouTube, and Google seemed like an easy target for investor angst.
Turns out, however, rumors of Google losing its edge were greatly exaggerated.
Ah, what a quarter
By virtually all accounts, Google's Q2 was a smashing success, and not only because of the financials it posted in the quarter -- which were extremely strong -- but also what the future holds, thanks to a lot of positive musings from new-ish CFO Ruth Porat.
The $17.73 billion in revenue Google generated in Q2 not only beat analyst expectations, it was an impressive 11% jump over the year-ago quarter. The number of aggregate paid clicks, the primary driver of Google ad sales, continued to climb, rising another 7% over 2014's Q2. Cost per click, or CPC, rates have long been a source of consternation for Google bears, and they declined again last quarter.
But thanks to Google's solid revenue and earnings, CPC rates were brushed aside. On a GAAP basis (including one-time expenses), Google really hit an earnings per share home run: its $6.43 per share in this year's second quarter obliterated last year's $4.88.
In addition to Google's earnings beat, Porat's rather firm assertions of what she envisions in Google's future were the impetus for its double-digit jump in share price following the Q2 conference call.
Behold the future
One of the biggest "beefs" about Google has been (and still is to some extent) a seeming lack of expense management. Google's far-flung forays into floating balloons, nanotechnology, and the aforementioned Glass and driverless cars are wearing a bit thin. And investors have long bemoaned Google's lack of a dividend, particularly when you consider that it's sitting on nearly $70 billion in cash and equivalents, thanks in part to the nearly $4.5 billion it generated in free cash flow last quarter.
But as Google demonstrated in Q2, and based on Porat's input during its earnings call, there may be some light at the end of the expense management tunnel. Despite Google's impressive 11% jump in sales, its traffic acquisition costs (TACs) were essentially flat compared to last year's Q2. Porat said that investors should expect similar cost-conscious oversight in the future, too.
The stock price jump a few days ago after Google announced that it was slowing hiring showed that investors were waiting for a sign that it could curtail spending. Porat reiterated that notion in no uncertain terms on July 16's earnings call.
Still, Google has about 8,600 more personnel this quarter than it did a year ago -- slightly over 57,000 total. But don't expect such big increases going forward. In fact, Google "only" added about 1,700 new employees in Q2, its slowest hiring rate for a quarter in nearly two years.
Could it be?
The double-digit pop in Google's share price following its earnings report was largely due to its strong results, along with Porat's apparent focus on cost control. But one of the more intriguing aspects of Google's Q2 earnings call was Porat letting slip that she is at least exploring the notion of "returning cash to shareholders."
Whether sharing some of its wealth with shareholders comes in the form of a stock repurchase program or -- dare we think it? -- paying a dividend, Porat wouldn't say. But this was without doubt the most forthcoming Google has ever been on the subject.
When all is said and done, Google's Q2 was a reminder to the world that it's still king of the digital media universe. And with the promise of tightening expenditures along with giving back to shareholders -- in whatever form that may take -- Google's future looks awfully bright.