The CEO's Guide to Earnings Calls: Larry Page's Cautionary Tale

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Google CEO Larry Page bombed his post-earning conference call with investors Thursday. He spoke less than 400 words, skipped the Q&A session and left investors in the dark about why the company's operating expenses increased a whopping 54 percent from a year ago. As thanks, Wall Street sold Google's stock down 8 percent, which lopped off $15 billion of market value and set a record for the biggest single-day decline since 2008. Ouch! What did Page do wrong? Here's a tip sheet from business writers and Wall Street analysts on surviving the dreaded earnings call:

1. Don't miss the Q&A session After saying hello and how "excited" he was about Google's "momentum," Page departed, leaving Google CFO Patrick Pichette, SVP of engineering Jeff Huber, SVP of ads Susan Wojcicki and two newcomers to speak for the company. "We would have wanted Larry to stick around for Q&A," said Citi analyst Mark Mahaney in a note to investors. Citi downgraded Google's stock with Mahaney citing Page's "token appearance" as another low point of the first quarter.

2. If you are going to miss the Q&A, don't show up at all Because Page had nothing of substance to say, other than it was a "tremendous" quarter, Fortune's Seth Weintraub and TechCrunch's Erick Schonfeld say "he would have been better off not even appearing at all."

3. Talk about the future direction of the company  With Page taking over as CEO for Eric Schmidt, investors are worried about what the relatively young CEO has in store for the company. "Analysts expected new CEO Larry Page to offer guidance about the way he would run the company," writes Clint Boulton at eWeek. "What they got for their time from Page was a vague two-minute bulletin about how Google is going great and the new management structure he put in place is working exactly as planned."

"Maybe (Google) doesn't want to talk about it, but their multiple is going to go down until they do," said Walt Price, portfolio manager at RCM Capital Management in an interview with Reuters' Alexei Oreskovic. "Larry Page's vision would be a good place to start, and I think people are worried that Facebook is a giant sucking sound on the valuation of Google and the future of Google." Eric Jackson at Forbes says Page has no excuse for not laying out a game plan.  "Larry Page has known he is taking on this role for at least 90 days going back to February (and probably longer). He should be able to communicate his strategic vision for Google now," he writes.

4. Don't gloss over current problems Google's massive spending binge cut into the company's profits in the first quarter. It'd be nice to know how Google was going to deal with that but neither Page nor the other executives took the issue on. It was clear from Gleacher and Co.'s Yun Kim that this concerned investors. "We are somewhat wary of the company's continued investment in non-search business, which could accelerate under the new CEO, and also given its recent acceleration in its core search business," he wrote. "The large jump in expenses that never really was addressed in the rest of the call by the other executives sends a message to Wall Street," writes Eric Jackson at Forbes, "the kids are back in charge at Google and they’ll run it any damn well way they want."

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