Google Needs to Split

Here we go again.

At the start of the year, Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) touched $500 a share, and then it dropped back to the mid-$400s for a while. When the price returned to $500 a share, it was to a hue and cry from doomsayers, predicting that it, too, shall pass. Then came $600. Well, yesterday the shares broke the $700 mark.

The online mammoth is already floating in rarefied air -- only four other American stocks that trade on the NYSE and the Nasdaq stock exchange have share prices above $600 apiece. That's the A-B punch of Berkshire Hathaway (NYSE: BRK-A  ) (NYSE: BRK-B  ) , which is in a league of its own, followed by Washington Post (NYSE: WPO  ) at $817 right now, and Chicago Mercantile Exchange owner CME Group (NYSE: CME  ) , which trades for $656 a share.

If Google puts together another few years of outstanding growth and fair-to-generous valuation, the share price will be too rich for individual investors. The big institutions and wealthy standalone buyers don't care whether one share costs $50 or $5,000, but tell that to a young jester who is just starting on a career path and wants to invest his or her first $1,000.

Berkshire's Warren Buffett is very clear on his aversion to splits, and CME CEO Craig Donohue says, "About 70 percent of our shareholders are institutional, so the idea of reaching a retail audience is probably not very applicable in our case." That's fine for large, traditional businesses like a mercantile exchange, a publisher, or Buffett's every-market conglomerate, but is that what Google thinks about its owners?

There's been a certain blue-collar je ne sais quoi in Mountain View from day one, when the search service ran on borrowed hardware in a Stanford garage. The famous "don't be evil" credo is another nod to common decency, and it just doesn't jibe with the big G's image to shun the individual investor like that.

A split is a non-event unless the current price keeps shares out of your budget reach. More than 2,000 stocks on the NYSE and the Nasdaq exchange have split at least once since 1995. If Cisco (Nasdaq: CSCO  ) hadn't divvied up its shares into one-eighteenth of what they were in 1995, its shares would cost more than $585 each today. Dell (Nasdaq: DELL  ) has split one share into 64 over the same time. Those shares would cost $1,950 if there had been no splits.

There's a time and a place for everything -- even stock splits.

Split hairs, not stocks:


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