Choosing not to argue with inarguable success, analysts raised price targets en masse for Google ( GOOG) Wednesday morning.Led by firms such as American Technology Research and Credit Suisse First Boston -- each of which raised its target for Google's stock price to $275 -- analysts decided it was safe to assume that the fast-growing Google is growing even faster than expected. With Google's shares trading at $214.02 Wednesday, up 11.5% from their Tuesday close, prior arguments about whether Google was overpriced at its $85 offering price or even at the pre-IPO suggested price of $135 seem hopelessly quaint, though they took place only a few months ago. Clearly, Google has delivered on expectations for growth, and then some. Despite Google management's warning Tuesday evening that future results won't necessarily be this ducky, the estimates that looked over-optimistic not so long ago look under-optimistic now. Among the other firms setting price targets eclipsing
Amid continual speculation about when the inevitable slowdown in search-advertising revenue growth will take place, the growth sped up for Google in the fourth quarter. Revenue from Google's own Web sites in the fourth quarter grew 118% from the year-earlier quarter, noted American Technology Research's Mark Mahaney, up from 99% year-over-year growth in the third quarter. Mahaney, who has a buy rating on Google, characterized as "jaw-dropping" Google management's comments about seeing no price resistance among advertising customers, and being constrained by a lack of advertising inventory (as opposed to being constrained by advertiser demand).
Analysts indicated that they believe Google isn't necessarily increasing its share of searches, but increasing the money it is generating from those searches. "We believe Google now has dedicated teams in place constantly 'tweaking' algorithms to eliminate underperforming ads," Lehman Brothers analyst Douglas Anmuth wrote in a note Wednesday. "In our view, Google first began improving monetization on the Google sites in the U.S. and has recently implemented the process on international Google sites and on the network. We believe improved monetization of the entire Google platform could continue to drive top-line growth." Anmuth, who has an equal weight rating on Google, raised his target price on the stock from $190 to $230. Google has been a recent investment-banking client of Anmuth's firm.