I see I've been appointed to critique one of the world's most dynamic and innovative companies: Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) . Oh, joy. Wherever to begin?
Clearly, when a business is as successful as Google has been, a bear can be expected to argue that the stock is bad, that it's overpriced. And sure, I could argue that. But the fact of the matter is that everyone already knows that Google is overpriced. Why, the company itself has admitted as much through its actions if not in words, when last month Google filed for a follow-on stock offering of up to 14.8 million shares. (Go here to learn the difference between a follow-on stock offering and a secondary offering.)
Why does a cash flow-positive company with $2.9 billion in the bank decide to raise another $4 billion and change? Because it can. The marks are willing to pay, so you might as well get while the getting is good.
But the thing is, I don't want to argue that Google is overvalued, or that the subscribers to Google's latest offering of premium-priced paper are rushing, lemming-like, to overpay for a company sporting a bubble-era P/E of 85. For one thing, that might offend lemmings. For another, making a quick buck off the day traders could well be one of Google's cleverest moves.
Today, I'd rather talk about Google's goofs. Its blunders. Its sheer, overenthusiastic, 6-month-old-Labrador-let-loose-in-a-china-shop-like style of doing business. Google may well be on a mission to make the world easier to understand, to give us all instant access to all the information ever produced. That's an admirable goal. And I realize why Google cannot understand why everyone in the world doesn't just get on board and let the company work its wonders. But they won't. They aren't. And Google consistently fails to "get" the fact that not everyone's on its side. When a company's stock is as priced to perfection as is Google's, any mistake, no matter how small, can be costly -- to the company, and to its shareholders as well.
A billion here, a billion there ...
Case in point: Google's time as a public company began not with a bang ("$135 a share. Because we say so."), but a whimper ("Never mind. We'll settle for $85."). Just one year later, Google trades for twice the original asking price, and three times the sale price.
Long story short, Google left a pile of cash on the table on Day 1.
Amateur hour on the Nasdaq
That wasn't the company's only pre-public faux pas, however. There was also Google's failure to register nearly 30 million shares and stock options issued to employees before the IPO -- a gaffe that nearly caused the IPO to be postponed. And when shooting its IPO in the left foot didn't stop it from proceeding, Google took aim at its right, allowing Playboy to run an April interview with Google's co-founders just days before the IPO date -- during the SEC-mandated "quiet period."
You forgot to Google "Gmail"?
But perhaps the silliest Googlism occurred more than a year ago. On April 1, 2004, the company announced that its "Gmail" email service was open for beta testing. The company then sat on its hands for six days before registering an application to trademark the "Gmail" name -- during which time, three other registrants sneaked in and filed trademark applications ahead of Google.
Worse, Google didn't appear to research whether someone else was already using the "Gmail" name -- something that a simple Google search would have revealed. As it turns out, there's a British firm called Independent International Investment Research that has operated a "Gmail" service for years. A German company, Giersch Ventures, also offers an email service whose motto is "G-mail ... und die Post geht richtig ab." (Translation: "G-Mail ... and the post goes off precisely.") Giersch won a lawsuit against Google in Germany in July 2005, forcing Google to change its service's name in Germany to the elongated "Google Mail." Giersch is also seeking recognition of its trademark in the United States.
If you're priced for perfection ...
... then you'd better be perfect. Thus far, Google (and its stock price) have survived its gaffes, but with four high-profile snafus in less than a year, Google may find that its luck is running out.
This is just one part of a four-part Duel! Don't miss Tim Beyers' bullish take on Google, followed by Tim's and Rich's rebuttals. When you're done, you're still not done. You canvoteand let us know who you think won this Duel.