Is Google Really Out of the Woods?

Search for "recession" at Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and you get few hits, at least when it comes to the search giant's third-quarter results. Personally, though, I doubt it's out of the woods yet -- it won't be until the economy improves and that will take some time.

Google's net income increased 26.2% to $1.35 billion, or $4.24 per share. Revenue increased 31% to $5.54 billion.

It's pretty impressive, considering all the frightening signs. Even a venerable -- and you'd think fairly recession-proof -- company like PepsiCo (NYSE: PEP  ) announced a lackluster quarter and a plan to lay off workers earlier this week. And eBay's (Nasdaq: EBAY  ) bum quarter made my fellow Fool Rick Munarriz believe eBay should be renamed at this point.

Exactly one year ago, I scoffed at some analysts' projections about Google at the time; they were calling for an $800 price for Google stock. I said: "And if a recession does come -- and I'm thinking that's not an 'if' proposition, given all the signals -- advertising will slow down. I'm not sure why people think things are different this time."

Well I was right about the recession, the stock not hitting the $800 target, and advertising -- traditional media companies like CBS (NYSE: CBS  ) and Viacom (NYSE: VIA  ) have warned about the increasingly tough ad environment, and newspapers are feeling the pinch big-time, too. And remember -- last quarter Google didn't meet analysts' more bullish projections, providing a wake-up call that the company isn't completely immune to economic headwinds.

Still, I can see why investors are feeling lucky today, since there have been ample reasons to believe Google could have reported a disappointing quarter under the macroeconomic circumstances.

Google's stock is certainly not looking tremendously overpriced, trading at just 17 times forward earnings and down 45% in the last year. Furthermore, like fellow tech stock Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL  ) , Google has a great brand, no debt, and a ton of cash on the balance sheet; Google's cash stands at $12.7 billion, and it generated $1.73 billion in free cash flow in the quarter.

Yet Google still just isn't at the top of my stock wish list. Today's upbeat tidings still don't convince me that a downer economy won't hurt Google further down the road as ad budgets continue to deteriorate. While Google certainly isn't a downright dangerous buy at these levels -- unlike highly indebted or serially unprofitable companies, for example -- I still suspect interested investors may find cheaper opportunities later on.

Search out some related Foolishness:

Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers selection. eBay and Apple are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Alyce Lomax does not own shares of any of the companies mentioned. The Fool has a disclosure policy.


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