Has the bloom really faded from the Google rose, or has the market really misunderstood the way this company is doing business, and the technology it is using to get the job done?
There is a fair amount of pessimism around these shares right now, with many analysts I'm talking to expecting a meet or miss quarter, rather than a good chance the company will beat expectations. That's a strange place for this company to be in, and it is clearly reflected in the company's stock. Google shares have been a mess recently, falling through $100 milestone after $100 milestone on a fairly regular basis since those lofty $700 highs back in November.
What's the problem? Lots of conflicting data, for one. We're hearing routinely from market researchers including comScore, that paid clicks have fallen off a cliff, and the indication is that the company is experiencing a precipitous slowdown in business. That data has been controversial, to say the least, with comScore releasing some data, and then essentially retracting a week later. Still, the firm reports March clicks grew at a paltry 2.7 percent, with first quarter total growth of only 2 percent.
But Google, which uses another metric to report its paid clicks, along with other experts, say the lack of clicks is actually because of a new software algorithm the company is using to weed out non-performing clicks, and making the clicks the company does get more valuable for its customers. If it's the former, that's probably largely built into the stock. If it's the latter, investors could see a sizeable pop to the upside when the company reports earnings after the bell later today.
"You've got a lot of noise to work through. You've got a series of channel checks, that's what we've done. If the growth rate really fell off a cliff...that should show up in marketers, and their businesses, and advertisers and their businesses, and in certain pockets it has, looks like financial services and mortgages. But in other pockets, like travel services and retail, it hasn't. So it's hard to explain the disconnect. There clearly is one," Mark Mahaney at Citigroup tells me.
Google and the experts following the company do seem to agree there is some kind of slowdown afoot; what the market has to digest is how severe it is, and what exactly is causing it. Remember that last quarter on the earnings call, CEO Eric Schmidt was clear in saying that the company was seeing no signs of an economic slowdown, no signs of recession. For a company that doesn't offer any meaningful guidance, analysts will be listening extremely closely to the comments on the conference call today to see if that position has changed any. If Google sees signs of a macro-economic slowdown, that could be bad news not just for Google, but for Yahoo ,Amazon and others. Citigroup's tells me "there's a very clear bogey laid out there. We're going to see whether they'll repeat those exact words this quarter, or start fading away from them."
Analysts this time around are expecting Google to report $4.52 a share and $3.61 billion in revenue, excluding traffic acquisition costs. No guidance from the company so nothing to look forward to, and no real other metrics to focus on. Which will lead many on the Street to focus on color and commentary during the conference call.
These shares are off better than 30 percent this quarter, so it's clear traders aren't expecting much. For the longer term investor, however, with Google closing the DoubleClick deal on the quarter, increasing its market share in search, Yahoo and Microsoft distracted by the hostile takeover and no real competitor offering any challenge to Google, slowdown or not, Google looks very attractive at these levels. If you're patient, and can stomach the short term vagaries.
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