Why Is Google's Executive Chairman Selling His Stock?

With Eric Schmidt selling off nearly 40% of his stake in Google, should investors be concerned? As one of the most dominant Internet companies ever, Google has made a habit of driving strong returns for its shareholders. However, like many other web companies, it's also struggling to adapt to an increasingly mobile world. Despite gaining an enviable lead with its Android operating system, the market isn't sold. That's why it's more important than ever to understand each piece of Google's sprawling empire. In The Motley Fool's new premium research report on Google, we break down the risks and potential rewards for Google investors. Simply click here now to unlock your copy of this invaluable resource, and you'll receive a bonus year's worth of key updates and expert guidance as news continues to develop.

Brendan Byrnes: Hey, Fools, I'm Brendan Byrnes, and I'm joined today by our tech and telecom analyst for Fool.com, Andrew Tonner.

Andrew, we recently saw Eric Schmidt selling a bunch of his Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) stake; I think a third or up to 40%. What does this mean? Do you think this is any kind of sign that investors can take when looking at Google, or do you think it's more of a diversification play? Insiders can sell for a number of reasons.

Andrew Tonner: Right, exactly. That was actually the big discussion around all of this. Is this a sign that Eric Schmidt now is moving away from Google? Has he given up faith in the company, or is it just a diversifying his assets sort of play?

From what we can tell, the base of the storyline is here: He's trying to diversify his assets. He has $6.7 billion of his $7.5 billion net worth tied up in Google shares right now. As he transitions away from a more active day-to-day role at the company -- he plays that statesman role now, almost -- I think it makes perfect sense.

It's not necessarily a sign that he is giving up on the company, again, because he's retaining a massive absolute dollar stake, even though his percentage ownership will be substantially diminished.

You saw the market react negatively to this, and maybe short-term selling pressure could force the stock down, but the real storyline for someone looking at Google shouldn't be Eric Schmidt selling his stake. It should be that Google is a company that's performing extremely well right now. They knocked it out of the park with their most recent quarterly earnings and -- the one thing that all investors are looking for -- we saw stabilization of cost per click, quarter over quarter.

That's been the big red flag that people have been anchoring on, because we've seen an absolute explosion of searches on mobile devices. Android is just absolutely dominating the overall market share there, but again with those ads not being as profitable, it's been a real red flag and an overhang for Google investors.

We saw that stabilize. Now, we'll want to see stability for a few quarters, or even improvement, but seeing that number I think investors really anchored on, that maybe we've reached a bottom with Google and its advertising rates on mobile.

You see a company that's very cheaply priced, at about 13 times enterprise value to EBITDA because it carries so much cash on its balance sheet. Google, a company clicking on all cylinders. I think the Eric Schmidt stock sale is really just noise.

The more important thing is to focus on the real investment storyline here, which is a company that's performing beautifully today.

Brendan: Real quick. Do you see it as a better value than maybe a cheaper, by-the-book stock, like a Microsoft or an HP, maybe a turnaround play? Do you see their mobile footprint really taking hold there?

Andrew: Yeah, I absolutely do. If you contrast Google, who's really positioning itself to succeed in the mobile future with Android -- they're taking these losses up front so they can succeed -- you contrast that to the old guard at the tech giants, the Microsofts and HPs, and they're the ones that are really struggling.

They're all grasping to break into this space in one way or another. Microsoft's obviously launched its Surface. Now it has Windows, an operating system that can actually operate on a mobile device, but at the same time we're not seeing a lot of traction out of it.

You're seeing that from even some of the mobile plays as well. Nokia (NYSE: NOK  ) and Research In Motion (NASDAQ: BBRY  ) (now BlackBerry).The smartphone revolution wasn't necessarily a complete out of the blue for them, and they failed to react. Now they're reaping the consequences, really making a concerted effort to break back in, but I think it's going to be really challenging with Google and Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL  ) basically holding the de facto market share there.

Brendan: Right. Charlie Munger, what did he say, "Google has the widest moat out of any company I've ever seen"?

Andrew: Yeah, exactly. "I wouldn't want to go up against them." If you gave them the equivalent of Google's market cap, how could you disrupt that? They're such a well-entrenched wide-moat company, you've got to love them as a long-term play.

Brendan: Great. Andrew Tonner, thank you for your time.

With Eric Schmidt selling off nearly 40% of his stake in Google, should investors be concerned? As one of the most dominant Internet companies ever, Google has made a habit of driving strong returns for its shareholders. However, like many other web companies, it's also struggling to adapt to an increasingly mobile world. Despite gaining an enviable lead with its Android operating system, the market isn't sold. That's why it's more important than ever to understand each piece of Google's sprawling empire. In The Motley Fool's new premium research report on Google, we break down the risks and potential rewards for Google investors. Simply click here now to unlock your copy of this invaluable resource, and you'll receive a bonus year's worth of key updates and expert guidance as news continues to develop.


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  • Report this Comment On February 20, 2013, at 9:04 AM, Arthur1111 wrote:

    Erick Schmidt sells 40% of his shares at the highest price and you call it diversification play?

    But, a fired BlackBerry CEO who had to sell his shares within 12 month is considered not believing in the company?

    What a strange logic you have. You are too smart. I am jealous.

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