Google's ( GOOG) sparkling third quarter left Wall Street searching for superlatives Friday. The Mountain View, Calif., company saw its shares surge 12%, hitting an all-time high as analysts and investors tipped their hats to its Net search engine dominance. Few saw any reason to believe the party will end anytime soon. Google jumped $36.54 at midday to $339.74. Brokerages including Goldman Sachs, First Albany, UBS and RBC
boosted their price targets or implied value estimates on the stock above a once-unthinkable $400. Even more skeptical observers such as Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Rich Fine, who rates Google shares neutral, joined the fray. She raised her net revenue estimates, reflecting revenue less the so-called traffic acquisition costs Google pays its partner, by $234 million this year and $374 million next. "For 2006, we are now assuming that Google will increase its market share again before suffering some erosion," she wrote in a note to clients. "Previously we had assumed some decline in share in 2006." Google's gains come even as rivals including Microsoft ( MSFT), Yahoo! ( YHOO) and Time Warner's ( TWX) take increasing aim at the company. Microsoft plans to release a new version of Windows that will use MSN search as a default, and Yahoo! adding new features to its Web site such as podcasting and blogging. Both those companies, along with cable giant Comcast ( CMCSA), have talked with AOL about partnerships aimed at least in part in curbing Google's power. But Google's rivals with have their work cut out for them because of the company's huge technological advantages, said Philip Remek, an analyst with Guzman & Co., who rates the shares underperform and doesn't own them, said in an interview. "This is an emerging industry segment, and I don't think anyone really knows how much growth there will be in search," he said. "That uncertainty helps Google."