Earlier this week, antitrust regulators from the European Union imposed a record $5 billion fine on Alphabet (NASDAQ:GOOG, NASDAQ:GOOGL). The charge? That the search-engine king used its vast influence to force smartphone manufacturers to pre-install Google apps. When the news broke, Google stock absorbed a very modest, almost non-discernible hit.
Honestly, why would it? If regulatory officials slapped a $5 billion fine on an ordinary company, it might spark panic. But Alphabet is the very antithesis of ordinary. In its most recent quarter, the internet giant delivered $9.4 billion in profit. This was up a massive 73% from the year-ago quarter, which still saw a robust $5.4 billion profit.
Just to demonstrate how much of a non-news item the fine is for Google stock, consider this: Alphabet is sitting on $103 billion in cash. Long-term debt is only $3.94 billion. Even if management were to wipe out total liabilities today, they’d still sit on a never-ending pile of greenbacks.
Regulation and Google Stock
I don’t mean to make light of the issue. The rules are the rules, and non-compliance represents a competitive threat. But if you’re considering Google stock, this fine isn’t going to bother you in the least. After all, this isn’t the first time Google has run afoul of regulators.
Just last year, the EU slammed the ubiquitous internet firm with a $2.7 billion fine. For this infraction, the European government accused the company of manipulating its Google search engine results.
Specifically, Alphabet directed internet users to its own ecommerce channels as opposed to its rivals like Amazon (NASDAQ:AMZN). The company ended up paying the fine.
Our own Federal Trade Commission also investigated Alphabet years earlier. As a result of the FTC’s probe, the company changed its business practices.
For what it’s worth, Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai issued a sharp rebuttal against the EU regulators’ decision. Stating his intention to appeal, Pichai emphasized that the Alphabet-developed Android smartphone operating system competes directly with Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) devices. Pichai further retorted:
It also misses just how much choice Android provides to thousands of phone makers and mobile network operators who build and sell Android devices; to millions of app developers around the world who have built their businesses with Android; and billions of consumers who can now afford and use cutting-edge Android smartphones.
I don’t doubt Alphabet’s sincerity in fighting the EU over their antitrust accusation. However, I can’t help but notice that the company’s legal excursions have the potential to help Google stock longer-term. Let me explain.
We all know that Google owns the search-engine space, and will likely continue to achieve complete, uncontested dominance. But they’re never satisfied, moving into lucrative sectors through key acquisitions like YouTube. That was a deal that cost “only” $1.65 billion almost 12 years ago. To secure a deal today in a hot market will cost much more.
So for Google to push its apps and services platform, and gain greater market share, a $5 billion fine might be worth it. Interestingly, Google apps have a strong presence in the Apple App Store, boasting nine of the top 50 apps.
Of course, that indicates Alphabet’s effectiveness in “enemy territory.” Imagine what they can do in a level playing field. For instance, the company’s first EU fine still resulted in substantive gains in the shopping-search service sector.
I’m not suggesting that Alphabet is deliberately cutting regulatory corners. But based on their cash position alone, they’re not disincentivized from such a tactic.
Antitrust Controversy Can’t Hurt Google Stock
As far as this antitrust situation is concerned, Google is a no-brainer. No analyst is stepping forward to say that this is a net-negative for Alphabet. In fact, some are suggesting that this will have a positive impact.
In the worst-case scenario, Alphabet does what it has done before in these controversies: comply, pay the fine, and move on, having already benefitted from the action that led to the penalty. The best-case scenario is that Alphabet wins the antitrust case, and further cements its dominance.
I don’t see a drawback here, other than the former scenario merely delays the inevitable. That’s why if you’re going to do anything with Google stock, don’t let this issue distract you. It will have no bearing on the equity’s future trajectory.
As of this writing, Josh Enomoto did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.