Times like this make it darn hard to be a Google
The search giant's first quarter was, to put it lightly, impressive. Profit increased 69% and sales increased 63%. Cash was up. Free cash flow was up. Although gross margin was flat, net and operating margin ticked up. Up, up, up. (For the detailed rundown, check out our Fool by Numbers for Google, which includes all the numbers as well as a poetic interlude -- April is not only "the cruelest month," it's also National Poetry Month.)
Then again, April wasn't too cruel for Google, as its quarterly numbers illustrate quite nicely. "Ecstatic" was the word CEO Eric Schmidt used for the company's feelings about the quarter, although he mitigated the ecstasy a little by reminding everyone of the approach of the slower summer months.
Obviously, I've been wrong in my bearishness about Google thus far, and I've already seen the arguments that the continued surges in sales and profits at Google make a good argument that it's actually cheaper than rivals Yahoo!
However, I still can't help but consider Google a moatless wonder (emphasis on wonder, I guess), or dwell on the relative lack of success of some of its ancillary products beyond core search. Google management may say it's pleased with Google Checkout -- it's lined up some new partners, too, like CompUSA, RadioShack
There's also the copyright mess. Although Google said YouTube's growth is "accelerating even more" as users post more content and more partners sign on, the copyright issue is a major risk, regardless of where you stand on the issue. Although Schmidt did discuss Google's "Claim Your Content" feature, which is intended to make it easier and faster for publishers to have their copyrighted content removed from YouTube and Google Video, he also emphasized that this isn't a filtering system that blocks proprietary content from being uploaded. I can see how companies like Viacom
Last but not least, I've heard the argument that Google shouldn't be viewed as a search engine concern anymore, but as an advertising juggernaut. My Foolish colleague Anders Bylund mentioned that idea in his recent Foolish Forecast on Google (it's definitely worth a read, especially with a quote from Percy Shelley -- plus, Anders was right on; Google's no Ozymandias today). It may be true that Google's now more about advertising than search, but I do worry that if Google loses sight of how important it is to serve up relevant and useful content as it arranges the world's information around advertising opportunities, it may eventually get disrupted by more accurate, less commercial rivals. Google is by all means a smart company, so it's not a foregone conclusion that that might come to pass, but it's certainly not outside the realm of possibility.
So yes, I remain bearish on Google, and I intend to keep my (currently underwater) underperform rating on Google in Motley Fool CAPS, just on the principle that I still perceive a lot of risk. Would I short Google in real life, though? I'm no short seller, but even if I were given to such behavior -- not a chance.
For related Foolishness, see the following:
- Google's buying DoubleClick.
- Google's CEO is feeling pretty secure these days.
- Long-time Fool Rick Munarriz recently suggested Google was marriageable material.
- Two years ago, I wrote an article called "I Hate eBay" -- which might as well have been called I Hate Being Wrong. I might be feeling an "I Hate Google" coming on.
Yahoo! and eBay are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Microsoft is a Motley Fool Inside Value pick. Blue Nile has been recommended by Motley Fool Hidden Gems and Motley Fool Rule Breakers. Boy, do we have a newsletter to fit just about every investing style.