Updated from 2:43 a.m. EDTGoogle ( GOOG) bulls are taking some encouragement from a recent industry report showing solid Internet search growth in March. The strong performance could bode well for better-than-expected first-quarter results and foil pessimists. Apparently, a comScore report on March search traffic released late Tuesday showed growth in U.S. paid clicks for Google and overall marketshare gains for the No. 1 search player. The loser in the marketshare battle appears to be Microsoft ( MSFT) and not No. 2 rival Yahoo! ( YHOO), which managed to hold its 20% share of the business, according to a Jefferies analyst report. Credit Suisse analysts say total industry search growth has now hit a 15-month high. If true, this would refute skeptics who predicted that a slumping global economy would cut into Google's core search advertising franchise. "Despite macro weakness, particularly in Google's two largest markets (U.S. and U.K.), search advertising has continued to significantly outperform the broader advertising and online advertising markets," the Credit Suisse report said Wednesday. Google reports first-quarter earnings Thursday after the bell, and analysts' estimates call for adjusted earnings, excluding one-time items, of $4.93 a share on sales of $4.08 billion, according to Yahoo! Finance. Other analysts, who have found positive trends in the comScore report, also weighed in on Google on Wednesday. "We think sentiment has become too pessimistic on Google," Sanford Bernstein analyst Jeff Lindsay wrote in a research note. "Although Google is feeling the downturn like everyone else, we think the business is still highly recession-resistant and is doing better than many expect.
Bernstein's Lindsay expects Google to post sales of $4.32 billion in the first quarter. Not only is $4.32 billion at the high range of analysts' estimates, it would also put Google above the fourth-quarter revenue level of $4.22 billion and preserve the company's streak of consistent sequential sales increases. One indicator of sentiment shows pessimists are in retreat. The short interest in Google has fallen to a seven-month low. As of the beginning of this month, there were 5.6 million shares shorted, a bet that the stock will drop. That is down from the 7.5 million shares shorted in December, according to the Nasdaq. Google shares were rising 3.1% to $391.33 in recent trading.