4. Wobbly Google
Shares of the search giant jumped over 4% last Friday, eclipsing the $800 mark on the heels of its Street-beating first-quarter results the night before. Google triumphantly reported earnings last Thursday of $11.58 a share vs. an analyst estimate of $10.66. The company's stock has been on a roll in the past year, rising 34% compared with its Silicon Valley rival Apple, which has seen its value slide 30% in the same period.
Despite its ascendancy to the top of Silicon Valley's heap, Google nonetheless spent the past weak acting rather wobbly. And we're not merely referring to Monday's mini-flash crash which dropped its stock to $775 in the blink of an eye before it recovered to $793 a few blinks later.No, that short-lived selloff was probably the doings of some fat-fingered moron. The unnerving activity we're talking about has less to do with outright idiocy than the complacency that very often precedes it. For example, also on Monday, a German privacy regulator announced its decision to fine Google 145,000 euros, or $189,700, for illegally recording signals from Wifi networks while it was taking photographs for its Street View service. Google's van was apparently hoovering up huge amounts of personal data while it was sweeping through the streets of Hamburg.
Google admitted it screwed up and pledged to pay the relatively puny fine. Still, one would expect Google, which has been warned many times before about its sloppy snooping, to be smarter when dealing with a citizenry that's lived under the harshly intrusive thumbs of the Stasi and Gestapo. Speaking of relatively puny sums, Google's CEO Eric Schmidt received less than rave reviews Monday over an interview with the BBC in which he lamely defended his company's tiny tax bill in Britain. Google ponied up a less than sterling 6 million pounds, or $9.12 million U.S. smackers, to the British government in 2011 despite recording revenue of 2.5 billion pounds, or $3.8 billion, in the country. "We empower literally billions of pounds of startups through our advertising network and so forth," bloviated Schmidt. "And we're a key part of the electronic commerce expansion of Britain, which is driving a lot of economic growth for the country. So from our perspective you have to look at it in totality." 'Totality'? Tell it to your pals in North Korea because that's total bunk. More like "voluntary," which is what one Member of Parliament's public accounts committee angrily -- and rightly -- called it. England desperately needs the tax revenues due to its stalled economy, and Schmidt knows full well he is paying them a pittance while his company is stashing gobs and gobs of untaxed profits a short swim away in Ireland. And our friends across the pond are not the only ones feeling as though Google is holding out. Google's accounting legerdemain is also raising eyebrows here in America. So much so that the company's CFO felt the need to address the fact that it only paid $287 million in taxes on $3.35 billion in Q1 net income -- that's freaking 8%, down from 22% last year -- on the company's investor call last Friday. "Please note that this quarter the rate reflects a recognition for the full-year benefit of our 2012 federal R&D tax credit, which Congress extended but, only retroactively in January of this year, so there was a catch-up for the full of 2012 in Q1. Additionally, there has been the usual mix shift of earnings between domestic and international subsidiaries that continue to impact our tax rate," rambled Patrick Pichette, Google's Chief Financial Officer. Save the annoying CPA-speak Patrick. We don't need green eye-shades to know when something sounds shady. Even Mitt Romney would question that rate (after first envying it, of course). We also don't need Google glasses to see that the target once proudly worn by Apple is now clearly affixed to the search giant's back. And with each and every arrogant act Google makes -- and it's been making a whole lot lately -- an increasing number of arrows are heading its way.