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For Some Veterans, Google Stirs Flashbacks

For some investment industry veterans, seeing Google (GOOG) shares top $400 brings back memories -- bad ones -- of stocks that have fallen from grace.

During the 1960s, stocks such as Xerox (XRX), IBM (IBM) and Polaroid were all the rage, selling at multiples as high as 100 times earnings -- even higher that where Mountain View, Calif.-based Google trades today.

"I saw them all go to less than 10 times earnings," said Don Hodges, a 30-year veteran of the investment world who oversees $215 million in assets for First Dallas Securities, which doesn't own Google shares. "I couldn't see putting a big position into Google."

On the basis of estimates compiled by Thomson First Call, Google's stock currently trades at 69 times the consensus earnings view for the year ending next month. Using the 2006 estimate, the multiple is about 48.

Like those former highfliers, Google, too, will eventually fall from its lofty valuation, these seasoned pros say, though they admit they have no indication that the search engine giant's business is showing signs of faltering. Rather, they base their skepticism on seeing other once-beloved stocks fall out of favor -- a pattern that they expect to repeat itself with Google.

"When that happens, Google is going to get creamed," said Chuck Hill, another longtime investment veteran and the head of the research firm Vertias Et Lux. "It will probably get creamed too much. At this stage, the easy money has been made."

Hill, who said he would advise people to sell their Google shares ahead of a market correction he sees coming next year, dates his skepticism to when he wrote his master's thesis at Harvard. He argued at that time that the then-popular optical character recognition companies weren't good investments because of the competition from IBM. His thesis proved to be correct.

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