Alphabet managed to finish its first financial quarter a step ahead of last year, but the coronavirus pandemic will make its mark on the company in the months to come. As it makes resources available free to consumers, the company will be constricted in what it can do to respond to increased demand for its services.
Total revenues were up 13% to $41.16 billion. Operating income is marked at $7.98 billion — that number would be down 4% from the same period last year if it were not for the European Commission’s $1.7 billion fine against Google for antitrust issues with its AdMob product.
Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai noted massive spikes in traffic to its properties including Google Search (current traffic is 4 times the peak usage during the Super Bowl), Android (app downloads are up 30% from February to March), Google Classroom (doubled usage over the month of March), and Google Meet (30 times traffic from January with 100 million daily meetings).
A couple of those metrics were helped by the fact that the company has also been offering enterprise-class features on those platforms for free. Last month, for example, Google Shopping vacated its listing fee for all U.S. merchants. It is also participating in a number goodwill development projects with governments and the private sector to scale up digital resources in response to COVID-19.
All of the above capped with the fact that consumers have become interested in topics that don’t attract quality ad buys meant that strong Google ad sales growth in January and February was dampened in March by a negative trend line of around -15% compared to Q1 2019. The cumulative three-month result was still up 9%, but the path ahead seems pretty clear-cut at this point.
With its services being used at historically high levels as well as the need to plan and launch new projects going forward, Alphabet has decided to slow down, but not stop hiring. Certain units will continue hiring at their current pace, but a number of areas will see fewer positions opening up less often. Budgets for non-essential marketing and travel have presumably been reduced as well while spending on construction for new offices and data centers has also been “recalibrated” as jobsites close down and work-from-home orders remain in place. Capital expenditures in general will be limited through at least the third quarter.
Alphabet definitely has the resources to keep all of its acts in motion with $117 billion in cash on-hand for a good long while. But, as everyone else is, it will be left waiting for governments to pave the road ahead for a fragile global economy.