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Google Misses: Stuns Street And Stockholders

Google shareholders are licking their wounds in after-market trading tonight after the company surprised Wall Street by missing expectations on both the top and bottom lines.

And when I say "surprised," I really mean "shocked." I've spoken to a two analysts since the numbers came out who can't talk publicly until they release their own research to clients, but they're stunned by the miss. Such is the price for a company that doesn't offer guidance. And investors are the ones stuck paying it.

Google reported $3.39 billion in revenue, excluding traffic acquisition costs, or TAC, compared to Wall Street estimates in the category of $3.45 billion. Google also reported $4.43 in non-GAAP earnings per share, the apples-to-apples comparison to the Street consensus of $4.44.

The "miss" immediately took its toll on Google shares, sending them lower by almost 5 percent after the company spent much of the day erasing earlier losses and going positive by 4 percent just as the market closed.

Most shocking is the steep decline in paid clicks, one of the best metrics to measure Google's underlying advertiser strength. Yes, Google posted a 30 percent gain, year over year for the fourth quarter, but only a 9 percent sequential improvement from the company's third quarter. Bear Stearns, for one, anticipated a 10 percent increase; Piper Jaffray was at 14 percent; Citigroup was at 20 percent.

For comparison purposes, Google posted a 22 percent sequential paid click growth improvement from third to fourth quarter last year. The 9 percent move this year could suggest a marked slowdown in consumer interest ahead of holiday shopping; and does not bode well for those who might have thought Google was more insulated against an economic slowdown than others.

The company also hired another 900 workers on the quarter, bringing full-time employment to 16,805 employees, even as the company said tonight that "we expect to make significant capital expenditures."

Heavy spending, big-time hiring, and unable to meet Street expectations on the top and bottom line is a big problem especially for shorter term investors hoping for a shot of optimism from the company.

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