Last December, two Fools threw off their gloves for a good old-fashioned brawl over Google's
This jester couldn't let such an insult stand, and gladly picked up the glove to defend the Big G. Noted value hound Chuck Saletta took the opposite position, of course.
Airing it out
I praised Google's audacity and big dreams. A storied history and dominance in the online business sector doesn't stop the company from reaching into our offline lives. Agreements with cell-phone providers like AT&T
If Google only knows one thing, it's how to bring information to the right destination at the right time. So the company is an advertiser's dream, and it was already stretching its tentacles into radio and print marketing.
Defense wins championships
Chuck, of course, argued that the valuation was out of whack. He pulled up a list of six companies that added up to Google's $145 billion market cap at the time -- luminaries like Anadarko Petroleum
For the life of him, Chuck couldn't see why Google deserved a richer valuation than all of these excellent, profitable companies. The fickle nature of advertising revenue couldn't possibly support this "priced for perfection" stock forever.
So I told Chuck about Google's 75% annual revenue growth, in stark contrast to the 5.7% average for most of his putative alternatives. "We'll just have to see where the search giant leverages its massive collection of user information, marketing reach, cash heap, and talent pool," I said. And a couple of months later, I bought some Google stock.
According to my esteemed opponent, those shares were already priced as if Google ruled the "global online and offline marketing world." Which it clearly didn't. 'Nuff said.
And the winner is ...
Our faithful readers had little faith in my reasoning, and my bullish take garnered just 32% of the 163 votes cast. Chuck ran away with a 63% share, while 5% just wanted to tell us that they had no strong opinion.
Since then, the share price has increased by 43.8%. That's about eight times the S&P 500's gain over the same period, and twice the returns of Google search competitor Microsoft
So we go to CAPS for a tiebreaker. But that's no help -- Google is a middling three-star stock today. This is America, where tied scores are anathema to every sport, so I'll point out that three stars is a heck of an improvement over the single-star status the company held a year ago. Victory is mine!
Fine, cry foul. I'm biased, after all. But the simple truth is that I'd buy more Google stock today, at nearly $700 a share and completely out of line with any valuation technique Chuck could pull out of his magic hat.
I wouldn't buy it at just any price, of course. But there's a real business underneath the shiny growth veneer here, and the human and capital resources amassed in Mountain View have the power to change the world in many, many ways. It just starts with advertising. Google is for real, and will keep on proving it for many years yet as it expands to more business markets. (That's why Google is currently a nominee for our Most Innovative Fool Award.)
The company is willing to spread itself thin and make mistakes, because you won't ever find the truly great strategies unless you risk trying a lot of wrong ones. Will YouTube make Google even richer, or will it end up a lawsuit-laden drag on the results? Nobody knows. But I applaud the company for taking a chance few others would have attempted. The same goes for Google Apps, or the dMarc radio advertising venture, or the fact that many Google employees spend 20% of their work time on their own pet projects.
Google will look very different in five years, no doubt. Maybe somebody else will own the search space by then, or advertising will belong to Microsoft, or whatever. But Google will be there, doing something else and making lots of money from it -- whatever it might be. Chances are that nobody has even dreamed of it yet.
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Fool contributor Anders Bylund is a Google shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. He'd like to point out that Google is just the third-largest company in this story, counting by market cap. You can check out Anders' holdings if you like, and Foolish disclosure is always worth whatever you paid for it. Especially since it's yours for free.