Google Hardens for Facebook War

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Outgoing chief Eric Schmidt says Google's ( GOOG) new leadership won't significantly change the company's strategy, but judging by the comments from co-founder Sergey Brin, a bold attack on Facebook could be in the works.

To date, Google has not been able to find its way in social media amid Facebook's massive rise to popularity. And even though Google remains dominant in the Net search business, it's clear that Facebook's network-of-friends community could give advertisers a much more trusting and intimate audience.

Facebook's recent push into advertising and soon, mobile devices, has been seen as more than a casual threat to Google.

Wall Street however, was somewhat numb in its reaction to Google's sudden management shakeup and the pending departure of Schmidt. The move comes during what has been a big week in tech CEO changes, as Steve Jobs left Apple ( AAPL) Monday due to illness.

Google shares, similar to the Nasdaq, were mostly flat Friday in the wake of the company's blowout fourth-quarter profit and sales report. Investors were looking beyond the financial performance and trying to gauge what is ahead for the stock now that co-founder Larry Page will be calling the shots in April.

On a conference call with analysts Thursday, Page offered no clues as to his plans for Google. Page did mention twice that the Internet and Google were "still at the early stages" and that he was jazzed about the opportunities ahead.

Analysts asked very few questions about the new leadership agenda on the call. And on Friday, few drew any strong conclusions.

On the strength of Google's financial performance, Barclay's analyst Doug Anmuth raised his stock price target to $740 from $675 Friday. Anmuth didn't see anything necessarily huge about Page replacing Schmidt atop Google.

"We don't view the CEO transition as that material of a change," Anmuth wrote in a research note. "And we still think Google will be run in a similar manner as it is today, and mostly by the same people."

Schmidt wrote in the company blog that the breakup of Google's leadership trio was done "because managing the business had become more complicated" and under the new structure, there would be clearer responsibilities and accountability at the top.

On the earnings call, Schmidt said that his new duties would be focused on strategy. He said he'd be involved in external matters like government relations, an area of diplomacy that he was thrust into during the China censorship dispute last year.

When the executives were asked about the growing impact of real-time searches and social networks like Facebook, Schmidt asked Brin to answer the question.

Brin said that his focus would be on his personal passions, which involve a few new Google products that he planned to talk more about in the future. He said Google's use of Twitter feeds and social search were just the tip of the iceberg.

"We've touched just 1% of the capabilities that could be deployed in that realm and you should expect us to continue to develop those kinds of capabilities," said Brin.

Google to Facebook: We've only just begun to fight.

--Written by Scott Moritz in New York.

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