"Please stop asking Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) to spend its money on needless acquisitions."
That, in a nutshell, is the response I got from my call for readers' ideas on how DoubleGoo might best spend its $14.2 billion war chest.
My ideas were:
Your reaction? "What - EVER."
But I shouldn't be surprised. Too many analysts are speculating about what Google will buy next, so many that my Rule Breakers teammate, Rick Munarriz, asked Wall Street to stop the madness even as he conceded that taking Skype off of eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY ) hands made some sense.
When only the best will do ...
At least a couple of you agree with Rick's thesis. More of you would prefer Google use some of that excess cash to repurchase shares.
Fool Babble put it this way in an interesting thread on our Google discussion board:
I've seen too many companies "diworsify" through big acquisitions, like eBay did buying Skype. They grossly overpaid because it was the hottest thing of the moment, and then it turned out to be no synergies there. ... If Google buys something, it should be something crucial to its growth, but lying well within its core competence area. Google's mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. So any acquisition should be in that area. If there are no must-have acquisitions in that area, better to use the money (ahem, I mean dollars not money) to buy back stock while the price is down. [Emphasis and links added.]
Milligram46 went even further, arguing that Google should not be "looking for a way to spend [its] money."
The reason? Too much uncertainty in the global economy, which could force a sharp pullback in Web advertising and a decline in ad rates. Google's very healthy cash flow would suffer as a result, our Fool concludes.
Fair enough. And yet buybacks can be tricky -- value isn't always created.
Thus, Fool wokiko is right to point out that, were management to agree to a massive buyback, they'd be admitting that the expected return from investing in Google stock is higher than the expected return of reinvesting in the core business.
That's not an unfair point. Google's return on capital badly lags that of equally-flush growth-stock peer Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) and has declined every year since 2003.
Foolish final thought
Still, I think Babble has it right. If we can agree that Google is mispriced compared to its growth prospects -- and I think there's plenty of evidence of that -- then repurchasing shares would, indeed, be an excellent use of capital.
What do you buy for the company that already has everything? More of itself.