We are removing Google from our Top5 Picks for 2022 and recommend investors stay in cash. As a result of their greater market share of the total ad market today, we believe estimates for advertising based internet companies like Google & Facebook are more at risk than is commonly believed.
In 2021, Google reached $258B in revenues (29% of ad industry rev) while Facebook was $118B (13% of total ad industry rev) with digital ad spending in total have grown from 12% share to 2/3rds share of the total $900B ad market over the past 12 years.
During the Great Recession of 2008-2009, Google revenue was only $24B or 3% of ad industry rev while Facebook at $777M was 0.5% in 2009. Both companies were able to grow during that downturn as the internet was gaining momentum as an advertising medium with only ~12% of ad spending online.
But both traditional and digital ad spending is likely to get hit over the next 18 months during a recession. During the 2008-09 Great Recession, US ad spending declined by 6% in 2008 and by 18% in 2009. This decline for two consecutive years last occurred in 1940. Digital ad spending, however, was up slightly in 2008 and down only mid-single digits in 2009. I believe history has skewed peoples view of the resiliency of the online ad market. Google in fact saw revenues increase by 31% in 2008 and by 9% in 2009 as the internet economy gained share. The much smaller Facebook saw revenues grow 78% in 2008 and 186% in 2009.
The launch of the iPhone in January of 2007 also helped shift viewing habits online as you could essentially surf the internet from anywhere versus from just your PC. This drove even more ad dollars online despite a recession.
We thought Google should have been able to outperform the overall market even during a down 30-50% decline in the S&P during a recession given their prodigious cash generation, reasonable market valuation and focus on future innovations. However we believe the dollars available to all online ad companies going forward including Google will also be less than we originally thought due to share gains over the near-term at:
1) TikTok (~$4B in revs in 2021 and projected to do $12B in 2022),
2) Amazon ($31B in ad revs in 2021 & up 33% in Q4 as it ramps its focus on their ad business)
3) Apple (~$4B in ad revs and up over 3x in 2021 driven by privacy changes)
4) Netflix (coming before year-end which could be a big drain in ad dollars given they have over 20% of US streaming audience share).
Netflix on the margin tipped it for us with our Google recommendation as some people will switch to a cheaper ad supported tier during a recession. Netflix has 222M global subscribers currently. That is a fair bit of ad inventory that could potentially be added to the market. We have already seen the damage TikTok has caused at Facebook.
Finally, with the world slowly opening up, people are spending time away from their screens as they go engage in leisure & travel activities. This will cut the amount of time consumers are on the internet and reduce monetization opportunities for Google.
In summary, as a result of our belief in 1) an impending recession, 2) online advertising share gains at TikTok, Amazon, and new entrant Netflix, and 3) less time spent by consumers online as they engage in travel & leisure activities, the ad sector (both traditional and online) is an area where we have short positions currently. We think street consensus of 34% revenue growth at Google and 22% at Facebook over the next two years is optimistic to say the least.
At some point in 2023 when the market hits its ultimate bottom, Google will be one of the first names we buy for the long-term given their culture of innovation, solid cash generation and reasonable multiple compared to their long-term growth potential.
Dan Niles is founder and portfolio manager for the Satori Fund, a tech-focused hedge fund.