An $800 Google?

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) knocked the ball out of the park with its third-quarter earnings, and -- surprise -- analysts are readjusting their price targets on the stock to even headier highs. You thought $600 was steep? You ain't seen nothin' yet.

The search giant's net income increased 46% to $1.07 billion, or $3.38 per share. Sales increased 57% to $4.23 billion. Although the company's still on the hiring binge that resulted in missing Wall Street's estimates last quarter (it has hired 2,130 more employees for engineering, sales, and marketing slots), it was able to protect its profitability. One can't really complain about the $13.1 billion in cash, or that free cash flow was a whopping $1.1 billion, either. (You can review Google's quarterly numbers.)

Here comes the euphoria again -- today many analysts are coming out with new price targets, and $800+ price targets are among the high-end figures.  

I can admit when I'm wrong, and so far I've been wrong about Google, but the thought of investing in it still makes me nervous. Advertising may be Google's bread and butter, but given my concerns about quality of features and functions, I have to wonder if some of that focus may backfire (a similar concern I have about Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL). And if a recession does come -- and I'm thinking that's not an "if" proposition, given all the signals  -- advertising will slow down. I'm not sure why people think things are different this time.

Google has hungry competition in the likes of Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , IAC/Interactive's (Nasdaq: IACI  ), and Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) . And I'm also uncomfortable with the fact that beyond core search, Google still hasn't gained much traction, despite its steady progress in new products and acquisitions.  

It's true. I've missed Google all the way up. I salute those who have made big bucks off this Internet advertising juggernaut, and I acknowledge the fact that they were willing to take on what I considered a great deal of risk for this growth story. I admit Google's growth is astounding, and that it may not even look that overpriced at the moment, given the kind of numbers it's been reporting. But how long can it keep it up? That's the part that always bugs me.

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