And now, for a change, some good news about the Internet.

Or at least that's how the stock market is feeling as search giant


(GOOG) - Get Report

gets ready to post its third-quarter earnings later Thursday.




reported a weaker profit and shrinking revenue growth on Tuesday, and


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chronicled its valiant but

less-than-inspiring quarter on Wednesday, the anticipated strong showing by Google may be just the tonic that Internet investors need.

Analysts are expecting big numbers from Google -- like $2.42 a share in profit for the quarter, up massively from $1.36 a share in the year-ago period and above $2.22 a share in this year's second quarter.

Revenue is expected to reach $1.81 billion, according to analyst estimates.

For the full year, Google is expected to post earnings per share of $9.97, up from $5.91 a share last year. In 2007, Google's EPS is expected to reach $13.07. If those estimates hold true, Google's stock is trading at 71 times its 2005 earnings, 42 times its estimated 2006 earnings and 32 times its 2007 earnings.

But with earnings expected to grow 69% this year and 31% next year, several analysts have felt emboldened to put out a price target of $500, as absurd as that number seems on its face. But the Internet sector has been the refuge of choice for the past decade of the incorrigible dreamer. And if Google can't keep those dreams alive, who can?

For much of the past six months, there has been a raging debate between pessimists who argue that Internet-ad growth can't sustain its manic growth rates for much longer, and optimists who believe the slower growth in search engines like Yahoo! and


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MSN (reborn as has more to do with those particular companies than the industry at large.

In other words, the Internet pessimists see Google slowing down as well, and the Internet optimists see Google continuing to grow at the expense of weaker companies. Google's earnings report should settle that bet -- at least for the next six months.

The question is which camp -- pessimists or optimists -- can lay claim to being the realists.

Recent data have come down in favor of the optimists. Research firm eMarketer released its estimates for 2006 ad revenue, attempting to sketch out the Google growth story before the Googlers themselves do.

For the full year, Google's net ad revenue, or what it makes after sharing revenue with partners, will surge 65% to $4 billion, compared with the 18% growth at Yahoo!, whose ad revenue is forecast to reach $2.9 billion.

Piper Jaffray analyst Safa Rashtschy, often an analyst whose views are grounded in reality, is expecting Google to beat the Street's estimates, on revenue growth at least. "We expect strong volume trends, pricing gains and increased coverage/conversion rates coupled with monetization improvements and greater AdSense penetration to contribute to Google's performance," he wrote. Piper Jaffray has no current investment banking relationship with Google.

Citing data from research firm qSearch, Bear Stearns analyst Bob Peck says, "Google posted one full percentage point market-share gain

in September to reach 45.1% market share in the domestic search market, up from 44.1% in August 2006."

Peck, whose firm has no current investment banking relationship with Google, adds, "Aside from the impressive market-share gain, Google is also the fastest-growing site, with year-on-year growth of 56.9%, almost doubling that of the industry at 30.7% and well ahead of all major search sites."

If those forecasts are right, not only is Google's ad revenue 1 1/3 times larger than Yahoo!'s, it's also growing nearly four times as fast.

Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel explained Tuesday how his company is striving to catch up with Google.

But for investors concerned with the near term -- that is the next two or three quarters -- the Google story is the only one they will probably want to listen to this week.