Updated from 11:49 a.m. EST
So, did you get the call?
Not the call from the telemarketer trying to sneak around the "do-not-call list" by pretending to conduct a survey. Nor the recorded message from your local pharmacy telling you that your antidepressants -- you know, the ones prescribed after
fell from $475 to $342 -- are ready to be picked up.
No, I'm talking about
call. The call that reassures you that, in a world teeming with investors utterly confused about where Google's stock is headed, the three stooges -- er, the triumvirate -- want you to feel that you are somehow special.
As Jonathan Berr
reported on Thursday, "Google, after long sitting out the ritual in which companies and Wall Street court one another, is asking investors what they want to discuss at next month's meeting." That PR move seemed to be enough to drive Google's beleaguered stock up 7% Thursday.
And why not? If you suffered through long hours by the phone waiting for your incandescent high-school crush to invite you to the prom, you can avoid the adulthood equivalent by having Google's PR firm call you and whisper, "Tell us what you want to know."
However, because you're reading this story on
, the odds are that you are not peering into a Bloomberg-issue LCD screen. You're reading it on the Web -- the closest thing to a level playing field that the individual investor has seen since they tore down that big buttonwood tree on Wall Street.
Which means, I'm sorry to say, you didn't get the call. (Neither did anyone at
, if that helps. The same Google that is raking in billions in its lionhearted drive to "democratize" the Web has absolutely no interest in democratizing the conversation when it comes to asking about where the company is headed.
But hold on: Wasn't this the same company that threw down a gauntlet in its now legendary IPO prospectus, declaring it wouldn't kowtow to the self-serving rules of institutional investors? In April 2004, the tech pundits declared that a big blow for the small investor.
Here in February 2006, it seems that losing nearly $40 billion in market cap in a few weeks can demolish a lot of ideals. Now that the chart of Google's stock has started to resemble that of a myocardial infarction, the company is keen on reaching out to investors -- not all investors, only those who bought big chunks of its secondary offering last year.
For any poor slob who managed to buy 1,000 shares in the Dutch-auction process that was supposed to change things for the better -- well, it seems you're out of luck.
Why does this matter to Google? Well, let's say you're working in a cubicle in the moronically-named Googleplex. You've bought the line about how Google is fighting for the small guy, making money while making the world right.
OK, fine. But not only has Google started to diverge from its stated ideals -- choosing to make money in China rather than stand up to an oppressive and undemocratic Chinese regime (a decision, by the way, that should worry all Google investors because it's abhorrent to the bulk of Google users) -- now it's giving the big funds on Wall Street the chance to ask questions while giving small investors the cold shoulder.
Now, try to distinguish that small investor in Google from the person who uses Google as a search engine. Both are tech-savvy. Both choose Google because they believe it's the best in search. Both are casting a vote in the Google success story, whether it's through their money or their time and attention, or both.
But there's a key difference: When you use the Google search engine, Google wants to, as it said in its prospectus, "make the world a better place" (China excepted). And that's because Google makes money off your searches. Buy the stock, though, and unless you're a millionaire you're hung out to dry.
It's worth going back to that IPO prospectus again, reading it with an eye to Google's volatility. Today, it's hard to begrudge Google emphasizing, as it says, "an atmosphere of creativity and challenge," especially when that same atmosphere has kept it ahead of its formidable competitors in search.
Or, who can argue with Google taking a page from Warren Buffett and refusing to "smooth" its quarterly earnings? As Google said, "If earnings figures are lumpy when they reach headquarters, they will be lumpy when they reach you." Lumpy earnings are one thing. Lumpy ideals -- that is, shoving your half-baked ethics down the world's throat one quarter, and abandoning them in the next -- well, I'm not sure Buffett is smiling.
There are even clearer examples in that filing that really show how naive and misguided Larry and Sergey were, in retrospect, when they penned their adolescent "owner's manual:" "Many companies have suffered from unreasonable speculation, small initial share float, and boom-bust cycles that hurt them and their investors in the long run. We believe that an auction-based IPO will minimize these problems."
boom-bust. Yep, good thing Google's IPO sidestepped all that.
Even last May, CEO Eric Schmidt said the company decided against disclosing data on
such basic things as ad rates because, "we didn't want to mislead people." And sure enough, Google's lack of disclosure and guidance has made it one of the most volatile big-cap stocks that money can buy. Thanks, Eric!
But the most laughable line in that IPO filing -- and one that a cunning class-action attorney might just spin into a shareholder lawsuit -- is this: "We intend to take steps to help ensure shareholders are well informed."
It's been nearly two years, Google. As they say in the Dolby ads, the audience is listening.
In his story, Berr dryly points out that price targets on Google "vary widely from $255 to $600." And that's not including the $2,000 price-target-that-dare-not-speak-its-name
that was issued by Caris & Co. analyst Mark Stahlman.
Even so, just knowing that some of the better-paid brains on Wall Street are saying that Google's stock will either rise 64% or it will fall 30% -- heck, the way things are going, maybe both within the same month -- tells you more about Google than you'll hear from Google on March 2.
So, for those who don't get the magical phone call, let's try this. Reach into your pocket, pull out a coin and perch it on your thumbnail. Now flip it high up into the air.
Heads means Google's stock is going up; tails means it's headed down again.
And that's more than Google -- a company that has shown no genuine intention of taking steps to help ensure shareholders are well informed -- is going to give.
Hey, I got heads! Woo-hoo! It's a buy!