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AI hype boomed to start 2023. Earnings reveal gains won't appear 'overnight.'

Three months after artificial intelligence exuberance sent stocks into a new bull market during first quarter earnings calls, AI remains the biggest buzzword of second quarter earnings season.

But this quarter's AI comments have come with some calls for patience from tech leaders and a different reception from investors.

Microsoft (MSFT), considered by many a leader in the AI space since investing $10 billion in Open AI, told investors growth from its AI services will be "gradual."

"With strong demand and a leadership position, growth from our AI services will be gradual as Azure AI scales and our Copilots reach general availability dates," Microsoft CFO Amy Hood said on the company's earnings call. "So for FY'24, the impact will be weighted towards [the second half of the 2024 fiscal year]."

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The tempered expected timeline sent Microsoft stock down as much as 4%.

Still, companies like Meta (META) and Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL) were eager to tout AI investments during their quarterly reports last week.

And shares of both companies were summarily rewarded — Meta stock rose about 9% in the two days following its report, while Alphabet stock has gained 10% since the company reported earnings.

"It's not going to be overnight," Jefferies senior analyst Brent Thill told Yahoo Finance Live. "We're not, all of a sudden, going to move into the AI house. It's going to be a slow, steady adoption pace, and it's not going to — none of these products are really available yet until the end of the year in a big way.

"So we're going to see this as a more of a '24 event than a '23 event. So again, the wave is coming. But the hype is, I think, a little maybe too strong."

Last quarter, everyone had an AI strategy; even Coca-Cola (KO) spent part of its earnings call discussing it. This quarter, things are different.

Uber (UBER), which considers itself an innovative technology company, didn't even mention artificial intelligence in its earnings call until prompted. And even then, Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi didn't flex that ChatGPT-style AI will be a game changer for Uber.

"The large language models are more focused on text and pictures, et cetera, kind of guessing what the next appropriate answer is," Khosrowshahi said. "So they're not as extensible at this point into problems like pricing, matching, routing."

Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO, walks to lunch at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2023 in Sun Valley, Idaho.
Dara Khosrowshahi, Uber CEO, walks to lunch at the Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference on July 12, 2023 in Sun Valley, Idaho. (Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images) (Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images)

Meta, Alphabet still all-in on AI

Even with this relative caution from some tech leaders — or perhaps just a more sober view — there remain leaders like Meta who are already seeing AI solutions drive further engagement on their platforms, leading to increased revenues.

"Investments that we've made over the years in AI, including the billions of dollars we've spent on AI infrastructure, are clearly paying off across our ranking and recommendation systems and improving engagement and monetization," Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors last week.

Zuckerberg added that recommended content from accounts that users don't follow, which uses AI to generate content for users, is the fastest-growing content category on Facebook's feed.

Then there is Alphabet (GOOG, GOOGL), which some viewed as behind Microsoft in the AI battle earlier this year, but showed growth in this arena that was cheered by investors.

Despite Microsoft's insistence on waging a search war with Google using a ChatGPT integration in Bing, Google reported search revenue up 5% in the quarter.

"Our new generative AI offerings are expanding our total addressable market and winning new customers. We are seeing strong demand for the more than 80 models, including third-party and popular open-source in our Vertex, Search, and conversational AI platforms, with the number of customers growing more than 15x from April to June," Alphabet CEO Sundar Pichai said on the earnings call.

BERLIN, GERMANY - MAY 25: Sundar Pichai, CEO Google and Alphabet reacts during a fun kick during the Germany Women and Google Partnership event at Google office on May 25, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Getty Images for DFB)
Sundar Pichai, CEO Google and Alphabet reacts during a fun kick during the Germany Women and Google Partnership event at Google office on May 25, 2023 in Berlin, Germany. (Boris Streubel/Getty Images for DFB) (Boris Streubel via Getty Images)

"OpenAI's existential threat to [Google's] Search business has awakened the sleeping giant," Needham analyst Laura Martin wrote in a note after the company's earnings call.

Martin estimated in her note that 90% of Pichai's comments on the company's call centered around generative AI. Analysis from Bespoke Investment Group showed Alphabet mentioned AI 66 times on this quarter's earnings call, up from from 58 last quarter and just 8 mentions in the first quarter of 2021.

Alphabet also flaunted YouTube ad growth of 4% and flat cloud revenue growth after having seen declines in this unit during the prior two quarters.

Snap struggles remain

Then there are companies who are still talking about their AI prospects, though investors aren't yet buying it.

In its investor letter, Snap (SNAP) highlighted that more than 150 million people have used its My AI chatbot to send 10 billion messages.

"We are seeing really high volumes of conversations with My AI to provide clear intent signals about products and services that our community is interested in and, of course, that has obvious ramifications for our ad platform and monetization over time," Snap CFO Derek Andersen told investors.

"So given the results we're seeing today, we do expect to make a further step-up in investment here in Q3 to accelerate the progress on what we're seeing here."

Still, Snap stock tumbled more than 14% after the company reported its second straight quarter of revenue declines.

"The challenge here is Snap's investments to rebuild its (direct response) ad platform and offer newer products and tools to improve engagement are resulting in higher (artificial intelligence and machine learning) costs pressuring gross margins, EBITDA, and free-cash-flow," Citi managing director of internet equity research Ron Josey wrote after Snap earnings.

In other words, Snap's expected revenues from AI aren't yet large enough to offset its spending. And whether it is a bet on AI or any other new initiative, if investors don't believe in an investment, then management has a problem.

Josh Schafer is a reporter for Yahoo Finance.

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