This Is What Drives Google in 2012

Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) in closing out 2011 in grand style. The stock is sniffing at 52-week highs, some 36% above the doldrums of summer. Will this gravy train keep on rolling in 2012, or is it all downhill from here? Read on.

Just the numbers, please

Year-Over-Year Revenue Growth (Q3) 33.4%
Year-Over-Year Earnings Growth (Q3) 25.9%
Trailing P/E Ratio 22.0
5-Year Growth Forecast 19% per year
CAPS Rating (out of 5) ****

Sources: Yahoo! Finance and Motley Fool CAPS.

One additional figure deserves special mention. P/E-rich technology stocks trading near 52-week highs tend to attract hordes of short sellers. Not Google: Only 1.7% of the float is currently sold short. There just aren't a lot of serious bears out there in this case. Watch your picnic baskets with care -- maybe the grizzlies around Mountain View are getting smarter.

Every chair needs at least three legs
Big G roars into 2012 looking very different from the year-ago version. Larry Page has taken the CEO reins from Eric Schmidt, who now focuses on broader strategy as chairman of the board. The new and leaner Google also looks meaner: Page has scaled down the company's gleefully experimental side a bit by removing Google Labs and slashing a few non-core services.

Page calls this new attitude "more wood behind fewer arrows," arguably thanks to some sage advice from arch-enemy Steve Jobs. The Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) icon told Larry to stop making products "that are adequate but not great," according to Walter Isaacson's posthumous Jobs biography. "They're turning you into Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) ."

That effort to get closer to Apple's ideal of a few heavy-hitter products and away from Microsoft's shotgun approach should continue in 2012. Search and advertising have always been at the heart of this company, and those services will have more resources than ever before. Also, the Android mobile platform now sees 700,000 new activations daily and forms an obvious third leg of the grand plan.

Where's Johnnie Cochran when you need him?
To strengthen that leg, Google and its hardware partners must fight off challenges from jealous rivals -- more in the courtroom than in the marketplace. Microsoft wants royalties from every Android handset sold. Oracle (Nasdaq: ORCL  ) wants to profit from the flourishing app ecosystem; ownership of Java development tools arguably gives Larry Ellison the power to stop all Android app development, and this may have been a major reason he paid $7.4 billion for Sun Microsystems. And of course, sage advice aside, Steve Jobs wanted nothing less than "thermonuclear war" on Android. New CEO Tim Cook hasn't exactly called off the legal dogs so far.

So Android is dodging lawsuits left and right, forcing Google to bulk up on mobile-technology patents. These shenanigans will continue in 2012 -- and 2013, and beyond. At some point, the smartphone and tablet markets will mature enough that everybody has cross-licensed whatever patents they need and the market stopped growing anyway, so what's the big deal? Then the lawyers move on to the next hot technology. But for now and the foreseeable future, they all seem to have Android in their crosshairs.

Keep a close eye on these courtroom dramas. Each and every case is important as Google and its rivals jockey for position. The golden age of mobile computing is only just beginning, and every land claim counts double when the gold rush starts.

Google is a rare blend of deep value and barely restrained growth today. Uniquely, it's a core stock for both our growth-grabbing Rule Breakers newsletter and our Inside Value bargain-hunting service. Grab free 30-day trial passes to both services to see how one stock can fit both of these mismatched molds. Or if you don't want to pick sides, you can simply look at some timely mobile investment ideas that play on both sides of the Android-iOS rivalry.

Fool contributor Anders Bylund owns shares of Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. The Motley Fool owns shares of Google, Oracle, Apple, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google, Microsoft, and Apple, and have also recommended creating bull call spread positions in Microsoft and Apple. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools don't all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Check out Anders' holdings and bio, or follow him on Twitter and Google+. We have a disclosure policy.


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