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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.
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