Updated from 8:54 a.m. EDTThe Blodgetting of Google ( GOOG) intensified Friday as a growing contingent of Wall Street analysts predicted the stock has another 20% of upside or more. Reflecting the company's blowout third quarter, price targets or implied value estimates went above $400 at brokerages including Goldman Sachs, First Albany, UBS and RBC. The Google love-in came as the stock added $39, or 13%, to $342.20 in early action Friday. For its third quarter ended Sept. 30, the Mountain View, Calif., Net search giant made $382 million, or $1.32 a share. That's up from the year-ago $52 million, or 19 cents a share. Year-ago numbers were hit by a $200 million settlement of disputes with Yahoo! ( YHOO). The company said its earnings based on non-generally accepted accounting principles were $1.51 a share, up from $1.33 in the second quarter. Net revenue, excluding the so-called traffic acquisition costs that the company shares with its Web advertising partners, hit $1.05 billion. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call had forecast a third-quarter profit of $1.36 a share on net revenue of $943 million. "Although this is typically a slower season for Internet properties, we had another exceptional quarter," said CEO Eric Schmidt. "Our focus on end users and on quality of information and advertising worldwide continues to work extremely well. We are very pleased with how well this is working at scale." Schmidt was far from the only one. Wall Street applauded loudly after Thursday's regular trading brought a steep afternoon selloff. "The top line looks very good," says Chuck Jones of Atlantic Trust Stein Roe in San Francisco, which owns Google shares. The results "were better than expected just because of the size of the company." "They continue to fight back that law of large numbers," says Darren Chervitz, director of research at the Jacob Asset Management in New York, which owns shares of Google and TheStreet.com ( TSCM), publisher of this Web site. "We're looking at year-over-year revenue growth rates of about 100%."
Thursday's late surge stood in stark contrast to the reaction Google garnered in July with its second-quarter report, which spooked Wall Street with talk of a seasonal slowdown in the fall. Google's late advance put it back above $320 for the first time in a month. "Clearly, in hindsight it looks like it was a boilerplate cautionary statement that they were making," Chervitz said, referring to July's seasonality comment. "It makes sense that some investors and analysts were wondering how serious to take the statement." Earlier this week, archrival Yahoo! beat analysts' third-quarter profit expectations and reaffirmed its fourth-quarter guidance. But eBay ( EBAY) shares tumbled Thursday after investors turned on the world's largest Internet auction site over its weaker-than-expected guidance. Investors await reports in coming weeks from Internet titans Amazon.com ( AMZN) and IAC/InterActiveCorp ( IACI). Google, founded seven years ago by two graduate students, continues to dominate the search market, garnering 45% of queries as of September. That puts it comfortably ahead of Yahoo!, which had 23%, according to Nielsen/NetRatings. Microsoft's ( MSFT) MSN had 12% of the market, followed by Time Warner's ( TWX) America Online with 8%, and AskJeeves, now owned by IAC, with 2.5%. The Nielsen/NetRatings data highlight the challenges facing Google as it looks to win away users from Yahoo!, whose site is the Internet's most visited, through features such as email and local searches. "Google is on top now, but searchers are finicky," said Jennifer Laycock, an industry analyst and editor of
searchengingguide.com. She says Google's market position is safe for now, adding, "If you go to a high school or college campus and ask people about search, many of them don't know there is an alternative to Google."