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Google blows away estimates
No. 1 Web search engine reports strong 4Q results; stock surges, lifts other Internet stocks.
February 2, 2005: 9:44 AM EST
By Paul R. La Monica, CNN/Money senior writer
Shares of Google are poised to hit a new high after posting blowout fourth-quarter numbers.
Shares of Google are poised to hit a new high after posting blowout fourth-quarter numbers.

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Google reported strong increases in sales and earnings in the fourth quarter Tuesday afternoon, surpassing even the most bullish projections of Wall Street analysts. Shares surged more than 13 percent in pre-market trading Wednesday on the news.

As a result, several Wall Street firms, including CS First Boston, Jefferies and Prudential, raised their price targets on Google on Wednesday morning.

This was Google's second quarterly report since going public last year. And as it did when it reported third-quarter results in October, the Web search engine leader more than lived up to the significant hype.

Net income for the Mountain View, Calif.-based company came in at $204 million, or 71 cents a share, a 650 percent increase from the same period last year. But after subtracting a $60 million charge for stock compensation expenses, Google posted pro-forma earnings of 92 cents per share. Analysts were expecting Google to report pro forma earnings of 77 cents.

Revenues came in at $1.03 billion for the quarter, up more than 100 percent from a year ago. Excluding traffic acquisition costs (TAC), the portion of advertising revenue that Google shares with partners, Google reported sales of $654 million, ahead of the Wall Street's consensus estimate of $592 million.

Shares of Google (Research) shot up to nearly $217 in pre-market trading, according to INET. So the stock is set to open Wednesday at a new 52-week high for the company.

Google fell $3.72, or 1.9 percent, to $191.90 in regular trading on the Nasdaq on Tuesday. Shares are up more than 125 percent since it went public in August.

There had been some concern on Wall Street leading up to the report, however, about increasing competition in search as well as the fact that nearly 177 million shares are due to hit the market in mid-February following the expiration of the company's last lock-up period for insiders.

In addition, there were fears that expectations might be too high for the company. Other online stocks, most notably eBay, have been punished lately for failing to live up to the Street's lofty projections.

Blowing away estimates

To that end, Martin Pyykkonen, an analyst with Janco Partners, said that Google needed to not just beat consensus estimates but also beat the high end of Wall Street's projections, which called for pro-forma earnings of 84 cents a share and sales, excluding TAC, of $626 million.

But Google blew those numbers away, particularly on the top line. Sales were up 30 percent from the third quarter. By way of comparison, Google's top rival, Yahoo! (Research), posted a sequential sales increase, excluding TAC, of 20 percent in the fourth quarter.

John Tinker, an analyst with ThinkEquity Partners, said that this was especially noteworthy because even though Google has made several small acquisitions, sales were fueled mainly by internal growth.

"The numbers were terrific on the revenue side," said Tinker. "Business was very solid and most of their growth was organic, which is very impressive."

During a conference call with analysts Tuesday, Google Chief Financial Officer George Reyes said that strength in international markets helped fuel overall sales growth, with revenues from outside the U.S. accounting for more than a third of sales in the fourth quarter.

For the full year, Google reported total sales of $3.19 billion, up 118 percent from a year ago, while net income increased 278 percent to $399.1 million, or $1.46 a share.

Google also reported a much better-than-expected increase in adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization (EBITDA), a measure of profitability often used to value media companies. Adjusted EBITDA came in at $425 million, up 125 percent from last year and well ahead of Wall Street's consensus estimate of $368.2 million.

Other Net stocks benefit

The results from the top search engine company clearly show that the online advertising market continues to boom and that despite increased competition, Google remains the top dog in the sponsored search market.

"Google clearly continues to take share in a high growth market," said Steve Weinstein, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities.

Still, shares of other search companies Yahoo!, Ask Jeeves (Research), FindWhat.com (Research) and InfoSpace (Research) were all trading higher as well. Online retail stocks eBay (Research), Amazon.com (Research) and Overstock.com (Research) also gained ground Wednesday morning.

And shares of Microsoft (Research), which formally relaunched its MSN search engine Tuesday, were also slightly higher. Microsoft announced that it is planning a marketing blitz, including television, print and Web ads, to promote the new search tool in an attempt to gain ground on Google and Yahoo!.

But during the conference call, Reyes said that Google would not need to significantly expand its own advertising efforts and that the company would instead continue to focus on research and development. R&D expenses accounted for 8.5 percent of total revenues in the fourth quarter.

But Google did not give too many details about any new product plans for 2005. Investors are hoping that the company will be a bit more forthcoming about future strategic moves when it holds an analyst meeting next Wednesday.

David Hallerman, senior analyst with eMarketer, an online advertising research firm, said that Google will eventually need to diversify in order to lessen its reliance on paid search, but as long as the search market continues to grow rapidly, Google should be able to maintain its dominant position.

Google also stuck to its guns regarding guidance, namely, it didn't provide any outlook about financial results for the first quarter or the remainder of 2005.

Analysts are currently expecting Google to report pro-forma earnings of 81 cents a share and sales, excluding TAC, of $641 million. But given that Google crushed estimates for the fourth quarter, it seems safe to say that analysts will likely raise their first quarter targets and full-year projections significantly.

Analysts quoted in this story do not own shares of the companies mentioned and their firms have no investment banking ties to the companies.  Top of page

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