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Apple (AAPL): Bernstein Forecasts Google (GOOGL) Will Pay $15 Billion in FY2021 For Being Default Search Engine on iOS, Up From $10 Billion in 2020, Seen as Creating Higher Risk for Shares

August 25, 2021 9:08 AM EDT
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Bernstein senior analyst Tony Sacconaghi projects Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL) will have to pay almost $15 billion to Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL) for being the default search engine on iOS, much higher than what it used to pay previously.

Renowned analyst forecasts 2020 payments at about $10 billion, higher than the previous estimate of $8 billion. This figure comes from the analysis of the recent documents released from Apple, as well as a bottom-up analysis of Google's TAC (traffic acquisition costs).

“We estimate that Google's TAC payments to Apple (40+% CAGR for CY 2016-2020) are growing notably faster than GOOG's overall TAC (~18% CAGR) – and will likely continue to - for two reasons: (i) Google's payments to Distribution Partners (Apple, other search partnership) are growing faster than to its Network Members (websites); and (ii) Apple's mobile web traffic share has increased substantially over the last 5 years. The upshot is that we estimate that ~39% of Google's TAC will go to Apple in CY2021 up from ~13% in CY2013,” Sacconaghi wrote in a client note.

The 2021 forecast of $15 billion is “amazing” as it contributes about 850 bps to Services growth YoY and represents about 9% of Apple’s total gross profits. Higher payments from Google also mean higher risks for Apple.

“We see two potential risks to GOOG's payments to AAPL: (1) regulatory risk, which we believe is real, but likely years away; we see a potential 4-5% impact to Apple's gross profits from an adverse ruling; & (2) that Google chooses to stop paying Apple to be the default search engine altogether, or looks to renegotiate terms and pay less. We have noted in prior research that GOOG is likely paying to ensure Microsoft doesn’t outbid it. That said, with payments likely to approach $18 - $20B in FY 22, it not implausible that Google could revisit its strategy,” Sacconaghi adds.

As a result, the analyst believes “risk reward is balanced to modestly negative on the stock over the next six months” as shares trade at 27x P/FE, above its historical relative levels (1.25x vs. 0.90x), especially bearing in mind potential for weak to no revenue growth in FY 22.

Shares of Apple are trading around the $150.00 mark in pre-open Wednesday.

Berstein has a "Market Perform" rating on AAPL with a price target of $132.00 per share.



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