Google Probe No Fix for Yandex Search Decline in Russia

Yandex NV’s attempt to stem a loss in market share through an antitrust probe against Google Inc. will fail to reverse the company’s fortunes, according to OAO Gazprombank and OAO Raiffeisenbank.

Yandex, Russia’s largest search engine, retreated 3.3 percent last week in New York to $16.45, widening its decline this year to 8.4 percent, following a 58 percent plunge in 2014. The shares trade near the all-time low reached last month. Yandex’s slide compares with the 23 percent gain this year in the Bloomberg index of most-traded Russian companies in the U.S.

Russia opened an investigation into Google last month after Yandex asked for a review of the U.S. company’s Android mobile operating system. Yandex has seen its share of the domestic search market slide to 59 percent from 62 percent in a year and it’s being outpaced by Google in mobile queries, surveys show.

“There is very little Yandex can do to compete with Google,” Sergey Vasin, an analyst at Gazprombank in Moscow, said by phone on Feb. 27. “Google is a major problem for Yandex. We expect further decline in Yandex’s market share in mobile Internet.”

Russia was for many years considered a rare exception to Google’s global domination in Internet searches. That is beginning to change as Yandex’s share of total queries in Russia slips while Google’s portion reached 32 percent last month from 27 percent in February 2014, data collected by show.

Google Dominance

Google has an advantage in mobile, where the Mountain View, California-based company reached 23 percent of total daily mobile audience in January in major Russian cities. That compares with a daily reach of 16 percent for Yandex, according to researcher TNS Global. Android devices had a market share of 77 percent in the fourth quarter of 2014, according to research firm IDC, compared with 20 percent for devices using Apple Inc.’s iOS system.

Yandex’s strategy may benefit from the political climate, with Russia locked in a yearlong standoff with the U.S. and the European Union over the annexation of Crimea. President Vladimir Putin has been critical of American dominance of the Internet, saying last year that the Internet was a creation of U.S. spy agencies.

Putin, a former KGB colonel, has moved to increase government oversight of Internet media by requiring bloggers with at least 3,000 daily readers to register with the state, making them as liable for what they publish as established media. In April he signed legislation requiring Internet companies to store users’ information in Russia.

‘Silver Bullet’

“Yandex expects a ruling in its favor and sees it as a silver bullet,” Sergey Libin, a Moscow-based analyst at Raiffeisenbank, said by phone on Feb. 27. “The reality is that Internet users are migrating to mobile, and since Android devices dominate mobile, Google dominates that segment.”

Yandex said on Feb. 18 it asked Russia’s Federal Anti-Monopoly Service to check if Google is violating Russian regulation. Yandex said phone and tablet producers who want to have the Google Play application store on their devices must agree to set Google search as default and install an entire set of the company’s services, including Maps and Gmail. Three smartphone vendors notified the Russian company last year they are no longer able to install Yandex search as default, the company said.

The FAS may start to consider the findings of its investigation into Google’s activities in Russia in April, its press service said Feb. 26. The regulator can spend up to nine months to examine the case under Russian antitrust laws.

Slowing Growth

The increased controls over the Internet come as international sanctions linked to Ukraine, plunging crude prices and a tumbling ruble are pushing Russia’s economy to its first contraction since 2009. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s Investors Service cut Russia’s credit rating to junk this year. Russia denies military involvement.

Yandex Chief Executive Officer Arkady Volozh on Feb. 18 cited “challenging economic headwinds, including substantial currency fluctuations” as the company said it couldn’t give a full-year forecast. Sales growth will slow to 15 percent this quarter, the company said. Yandex is expanding into businesses such as online-taxi services, classifieds and big-data processing to diversify.

Yandex spokesmen Vladimir Isaev and Ochir Mandzhikov didn’t immediately return e-mails and phone calls seeking comment outside of normal business hours in Moscow on Feb. 27.

“Google is set to further increase its share of the mobile audience as the economy shrinks, incomes decline and people prefer cheaper Android phones” to more expensive Apple ones, Libin said. “The outlook for Yandex is bleak. All of its revenue comes from ad sales and the economy is deteriorating at the same time as competition increases.”