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Google's Earnings Released Prematurely, Stock Drops


Yesterday was the kind of day executives at Google would probably like to delete. Trading of the Internet giant's shares was temporarily halted after the company's earnings were released accidently and prematurely. What's worse, the numbers were not anything Google would want to show off. The earnings reports showed profits last quarter fell by more than 20 percent. Here's NPR's Steve Henn.

STEVE HENN, BYLINE: By the time Google's co-founder and CEO Larry Page kicked off Google's earnings call yesterday at 1:30 in the afternoon Pacific time, there was a lot to talk about. But...


LARRY PAGE: As you can hear, my voice is still hoarse so I'll going to keep my remarks reasonably short.

HENN: Page has been battling voice problems for months. But yesterday a hoarse voice was the least of his worries. Google had planned on releasing its third quarter earnings after the stock market closed. But instead, someone somewhere at the company Google pays to print its financial documents clicked send a little too soon and without warning, a draft of Google's earnings report popped up on the Security and Exchange Commission's website, right in the middle of the trading day. And what was worse - at first glance Google's quarterly results looked terrible. Profits fell 20 percent.

The price of Google's Web search ads had fallen 15 percent from a year earlier. Expenses were up, sharply. And Motorola Mobility, which Google bought earlier this year, lost more than half a billion dollars in just three months.

In seconds, Wall Street investors began to sell. Within minutes, Google stock shed more than 10 percent of its value. And within the hour Google asked to temporarily suspend trading. But by then its shareholders had lost more than $19 billion - at least on paper. Here's Larry Page on a call with analysts yesterday afternoon.


PAGE: I'm sorry for the scramble earlier today.

HENN: In a raspy, halting voice, Page defended Google's financial performance.


PAGE: We had a strong quarter. I am really happy with our business.

HENN: He boasted that gross revenue shot up, and even though Google is just 14 years old, it brought in $14 billion in the last three months.


PAGE: Not bad for a teenager.

HENN: But a lot of that new revenue came from Motorola, and although Motorola sells lots of phones, it's not creating any profit. In fact, last quarter Google announced it was laying off thousands of Motorola employees.

PATRICK PICHETTE: That said, we are just at the beginning of the Motorola Google story.

HENN: Patrick Pichette is Google's chief financial officer.

PICHETTE: Our team has made a lot of operational changes. We are really pleased with Motorola's progress in the first 150 days.

HENN: And while growth in Google's core business - search and advertising - has slowed a bit, Clark Fredrickson, who follows Google at eMarketer, says it's nothing to fret about.

CLARK FREDRICKSON: The bottom line is that Google is in a very strong position in the marketplace. Google now holds more share than any other company in each of the U.S. online search display and mobile advertising markets.

HENN: And all of these markets are still growing - fast. Google sold 33 percent more search ads this year than last. Google overtook Facebook in online display advertising. And Google earns more money on mobile ads that all other tech companies combined.

FREDRICKSON: Google dominates the U.S. mobile ad market.

HENN: But Fredrickson says mobile is a bit of a mixed blessing for an advertising company.

FREDRICKSON: Consumers in general are a little bit less likely to make large purchases and purchases in general on their phones.

HENN: That means advertisers pay less on average for ads that show up on mobile devices. As people spend more and more time surfing the Web on smartphones, that has pushed the average price Google gets for a single ad down. But Fredrickson believes as consumers get more accustomed to shopping with their phones, that will change. He thinks mobile ads could quickly become much more valuable, and Google, he says, is well positioned to profit. Steve Henn, NPR News, Silicon Valley. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Henn is NPR's technology correspondent based in Menlo Park, California, who is currently on assignment with Planet Money. An award winning journalist, he now covers the intersection of technology and modern life - exploring how digital innovations are changing the way we interact with people we love, the institutions we depend on and the world around us. In 2012 he came frighteningly close to crashing one of the first Tesla sedans ever made. He has taken a ride in a self-driving car, and flown a drone around Stanford's campus with a legal expert on privacy and robotics.

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