The Google+ social network has generated a tremendous amount of buzz, as Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) gets ready to bid adieu to the second quarter with its earnings report July 14 after the bell.
Investors polled by Thomson Reuters expect the search engine to report net revenue of $6.54 billion, which is up 28 percent from the prior year.
The period marks the first in which Google CEO Larry Page took the reigns from Eric Schmidt.
More interesting will be the tenor of the earnings call with financial analysts, who are bound to pepper Google’s management with questions about how the search company will make money from Google +, as well as how the investigation by the Federal Trade Commission of Google’s search-ad practices is impacting the company.
Until late last month, the big news would have focused on concerns about the FTC antitrust inquiry, but then came June 28 and the limited-beta launch of Google+, the company’s bid to challenge Facebook’s social networking crown. Since then, the company’s shares have increased some 9 percent, closing Monday at $527.28.
Google+ isn’t contributing anything to the company’s bottom line yet, but the social network is off to solid start. Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen estimated that the number of Google+ users is already at about 10 million and could hit 20 million by this weekend.
Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdry said Google’s Circles social graph builder (which lets users place contacts into several buckets), the Sparks topics feed, and the Hangouts video-chat service “significantly improve the usability, monetizability and user control in Google+.”
Said Chowdry: “That Facebook has become -too cluttered over time’ was a common complaint we heard.”
Chowdry also noted that in response to the Facebook clutter, developers have created several applications to help users move their Facebook content to Google+. Move2Picasa, for example, lets users migrate their Facebook photos to Google+, which is linked to Picasa.
On the strength of Google+, Chowdry said he is ratcheting up his fiscal year 2012 estimates, boosting revenues, excluding traffic-acquisition costs, from $31 billion to $34 billion, and raising earnings per share from $37 to $42. He is maintaining his current fiscal year 2011 estimates of $27.38 billion with an EPS of $33.52.
Not every equity analyst is so sanguine about Google+, particularly when it isn’t impacting Google’s bottom line for Q2.
Gleacher & Co.’s Yun Kim said that the Google+ service, the company’s Android and Chrome businesses, and its push into local advertising (Google Places, Boost) could require a higher level of investment that could weigh heavily on Google’s cost structure.
“With GOOG’s recent realignment of business segments to refocus its efforts on strategic areas, we believe the company continues to carry a high level of risk associated with both the timing and the amount of investment needed to fuel its growth strategy going forward,” Kim wrote in a research note July 12.
Google’s biggest long-term risk is the uncertainty regarding increasing regulatory scrutiny, but with regard to its acquisition plans and its search ad business. The FTC’s scrutiny could take a year to bear fruit, if there is any fruit to bear at all.
Also unclear is what will become of Android regarding Google’s suit versus Oracle, which is suing the search engine for infringing on Java technology used in the open source operating system.
In the meantime, most pundits and analysts will watch Google+’ impact on Facebook’s user engagement in earnest.