Is Google Getting Weaker?

By Greg Sushinsky | June 22, 2011 AAA

With data suggesting Google (Nasdaq:GOOG) is finding its search-based ad business pressured, the notion is that Google itself might be getting weaker. The search giant has been facing increasing pressure from Facebook and other rivals, and its stock price has reflected this.

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Search Ad Slowdown
Reports for the first two months of the quarter suggest that advertiser demand is slowing down for Google in the search-based advertising business. With the weak European and U.S. economies, most online advertisers appear to be cutting back their expenditures. While Google racked up $6.54 billion in ad sales in the first quarter this year, marketers are easing their spending for paid search, so second quarter sales don't look as though they'll be as robust.

Stock Slide
Google stock has reflected the disenchantment of the market with its search growth prospects, as its share price recently was just above $485, which was well off its 52-week high of nearly $643 a share. Part of this has to do no doubt with the market's general downturn along with the shunning of tech and internet stocks. Yahoo (Nasdaq:YHOO), for example, recently traded at a bit over 15% above its 52-week low, while even IPO darling LinkedIn (Nasdaq:LNKD) has seen an almost steady downward slope to its stock price. Even Google's China powerhouse counterpart, Baidu (Nasdaq:BIDU) has seen its stock slammed, as it recently traded 24% off from its 52-week high.

Challenging Times
Aside from market concerns and China concerns, is Google headed the way of AOL (NYSE:AOL)? Probably not, but will Google soon see its search business chipped away into a slow growth vehicle which will render the business moribund? After all, in the display ad business, eMarketer reports Facebook is scheduled to pass Yahoo in total US revenue for that segment. Facebook is growing its display ad at an over 80% rate, while Google is growing display at 34% rate and Yahoo at a 14% rate.

Google's Prognosis
So it's clear that Google's expansion into display ads isn't a cure all, though 34% growth is certainly not bad. If the sales slowdown for its search ads continues through the quarter, Google would be looking at a small decline from the sales of the preceding quarter. Estimates for growth in search ads this year have been trimmed a bit to the 10 to 20% range from the 15 to 20% range. That said, it's important to look at not only these metrics and the possible slowing of Google's growth, but to keep in mind that its overall revenue growth in the last 12 months has still been at a 24% pace while its income growth has been at 30%. Even approaching these rates will still make Google formidable.

The Bottom Line: Moving Ahead With Mobile
Google isn't sitting on its hands, either. While it will still have online ad growth and it is expected to have over 75% of the U.S. search-based advertising market, Google is also in line to benefit from the coming explosion of mobile advertising. Jim Friedland of Cowen & Co. was quoted in a Barron's piece, suggesting mobile advertising will mean $1.8 billion in revenue for Google this year and $10 billion by 2016. Mobile search and display advertising, really only in its infancy, could provide Google with their next mega stream of multi-channel revenue, something the company has an incredible knack for developing despite seeming to be "stuck" as the search ad company. Google getting weaker? Hardly. (Learn why it may be profitable to invest in beaten down stocks in Buy When There's Blood In The Streets.)

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