Google $300, Yahoo! $10

I've acquired the film rights to Yahoo!'s (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) life story. Now it's just a matter of deciding if I want to make it a tragedy or a comedy.

Shares of Yahoo! fell into the single digits earlier this week. Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) also dropped below the 300 mark. That's a great score in bowling, but it doesn't spare investors any grief.

Thankfully, both stocks have bounced back from those milestone lows, but what's going on here? When did online search become a dirty word?

Even Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT  ) -- a company that is too busy growing its software and Xbox business to be bogged down about its perpetual operating losses online -- smacked its head against a 10-year low this week.

Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft make up the country's three largest search engines respectively. It doesn't get any prettier if you keep going down the line. Ask.com's parent IAC (Nasdaq: IACI  ) has not taken off since completing its once-ballyhooed split into five distinct entities. Time Warner's (NYSE: TWX  ) AOL actually posted a year-over-year decline in online advertising this past quarter, so let's not even go there.

So are the markdowns overdone? I think so.

Don't get me wrong. The fundamentals have soured somewhat on these companies. You see it in how analysts have been hosing down their year-ahead forecasts for the search-engine medalists.

2009 EPS estimate:

3 Months Ago

Today

Google

$24.17

$22.39

Yahoo!

$0.55

$0.48

Microsoft

$2.40

$2.29

Source: Yahoo! Finance.

The market fears that online ad dollars will dry up, as advertisers adjust their budgets to discretionary spending patterns. I get it. I do. However, we're talking about 2009 profit targets that have been reduced by 5% to 13%, not the sharp drops that the respective stocks have suffered.

There's an opportunity here. I made my case for buying Yahoo! this week, and that's the most problematic of the three. With ad dollars migrating online eventually, it's the place to be. Now it's just a matter of picking your horse and buying your race tickets at $300, $10, or $20.

Other ways to spin the content bottle:

Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value selection. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers pick. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz isn't calling for a search-engine search party, but he may as well. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

Stock news, financial commentary, and your daily dose of Foolishness: Get plugged in to The Motley Fool on Twitter!


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