Are there any compelling stocks in web search? Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB), AOL, Inc. (NYSE:AOL), Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG), and even compete in this space. Which, if any, are compelling investments?
Search is Picking Up
Google’s fourth quarter results topped analysts’ expectations as companies sought to reach their customers using online advertising during the holidays. Reported net income was about $2.9 billion, representing a 6.7% increase. Though many stores closed for the holidays, customers were able to get items by making online purchases. E-commerce spending went up by about 14% and Google was able to cash in on these deals for several months before and during the Christmas holidays. Many more retailers also took advantage of Google’s advertising products to keep their customers aware of the available goods and services and how they can be purchased.
Google ventured into mobile advertising, and the revenues on that front helped to complement those from traditional computer adverts. Mobile adverts are cheaper than desktop versions and so the profits were not expected to be high, but Macquarie Securities analyst Benjamin Schachter indicated that the company was doing quite well on that front. According to Schachter, “The transition to mobile is still a work in progress but they are showing they can manage that process quite well.”
The company that owns the largest search engine also benefited from the amount advertisers paid for clicks on their promotions. The general number of clicks increased though the cost per click had gone down. Revenues went up and the company was able to sell its Motorola Home unit to Arris Group for about $2.35 billion. International markets, led by Northern European markets, also contributed to the great fourth quarter results by representing about 54% of sales. The company’s Chief Executive Officer Larry Page affirmed that 2012 was a good year for business and the company expected to do better in the future. According to Page, “I am incredibly optimistic about the opportunities we have as a technology company focused on user benefits.”
Google acquired Motorola Mobility Holdings for about $12 billion, and the phone maker is expected to continue making smartphones that will run on the Android platform. Motorola is still making losses, but it is expected to perform better in the near future considering that about 4000 employees had to be laid off and 90 facilities were closed down. It can focus better on phone-making, especially since the home unit was sold off. Chief Financial Officer Patrick Pichette indicated that Motorola was making good progress with regards to handset manufacturing, and efforts are in place to ensure that profits are realized. According to Pichette, “We do care about profitability and that is our goal with every one of the areas where we invest.”
Google continues to be the market-leading search engine and Android, its free smartphone operating system, also leads its market. These products holds about 67% and 72% market share, respectively. Google’s web search may, however, face stiffer competition from Microsoft Corporation (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Bing search engine if the partnership of the latter with Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB)materializes. Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) intends to launch a search tool for people, places, photos and interests that could be very successful considering that the company runs the largest social-networking service.
The partnership will see Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) work with Microsoft on the search tool so that Bing provides additional results from the Web or other sources that Facebook cannot access. The search tool could be a success going by the number of Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) users all over the world, and it may reduce the use of Google to search for people or photos or places.