Shares of Google
It retreated. Two more stints perched above 500 back in January proved fleetingly brief. So why should this fourth time atop the mark prove any different? If I didn't know any better, I'd say that Google and Phil Connors have been separated at birth.
Phil Connors? You know, the Bill Murray character in the film Groundhog Day, destined to relive the holiday over and over until he finally gets it right?
The Lame-tona 500
Before I get any further, I should point out that numerical milestones are practically meaningless. Hitting 500 shouldn't be any different for Google than the $487.36 mark it crossed a few days earlier. Media types are drawn to the round numbers, but those figures have no real significance to a company's fundamentals.
I wrote a Fribble nine years ago, mocking the journalistic hype as the S&P 500 crossed the 1,000 mark:
Did you ever have a car whose odometer hit 100,000? Odds are you were driving by Aunt Edna's Crab Shack or just pulling up to pick up some dry cleaning. It was just another day in automotive living. Maybe you took the time to smile and reflect, but you were certainly not at your intended destination.
Pete Rose didn't hang up his cleats when he got his 1,000th hit. Nope. He went on to swing past 2,000, then 3,000 -- and tacked on a few more after that for good measure. Milestones matter. That first dollar your company made is probably framed in glass, but only as a springboard to greater milestones and to bigger and better dollars.
Hopefully you won't write me off as a hypocrite, trying to ride the wave of Google 500 speculation to make a point. Here's a question that's relevant whether Google closed above $500, at $487.36, or its all-time high of $513: What can Google do to go higher this time? Can it spare itself a life of driving out to Punxsutawney, caught in an endless loop until it gets things right?
Getting Google right
Google isn't broken by any stretch. It's blown past Wall Street's profit targets in 10 of its first 11 quarters as a public company. The bar may be set higher and higher each time, but Google keeps clearing it with Olympian ease.
So even if this is the fourth time Google's tiptoed into the $500s, it's doing so with the most reasonable earnings-based multiples yet. I'd guess that most investors who dismiss Google as insanely overvalued haven't even bothered to notice this phenomenon.
Over the past three months, projections have kept ratcheting higher. Google is now expected to earn $15.17 a share this year. That same target was $14.25 per share back in March. Next year's forecast has gone from $18.43 per share to $19.28 a stub in that same time. Even at $500, Google is really trading at just 26 times next year's profitability. That's more than reasonable, given Google's heady growth (and the probability that bottom-line targets will continue to inch higher still).
The big challenge for Google is to grow without alienating its users. It's not as easy as it sounds. Microsoft
It's a tribute -- and a warning -- to Google's girth that last month's rumors of Yahoo! and Microsoft hooking up actually seemed to make sense. Google is the new punching bag, garnering inquisitive glances from the Federal Trade Commission after its $3.1 billion deal to acquire DoubleClick. Microsoft targeted the larger aQuantive
Google rolled out Street View photographic images to enhance its free mapping service last week, but many of the big media reports over the weekend bashed some of the snapshots as too invasive and voyeuristic.
My point is that Google's fundamentals speak for themselves. The tall task at this point is to get consumers to buy back into Google as the "do no evil" company, despite the media's souring opinion of the firm.
Microsoft, Yahoo!, Adobe
It's a pity, really. Google's best intentions to get it right keep getting interpreted the wrong way. Figuratively, the company's back in Punxsutawney, shivering in the cold, and hoping not to see its own shadow.
Yahoo! is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor newsletter pick. Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. aQuantive is a Rule Breakers selection. Try sampling any or all of the three newsletters with a free 30-day trial subscription, if only to see which one suits your investing style the best.
Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a huge fan of Google, and it would be his homepage if not for Fool.com. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick 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.