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Is Chrome a $1 Billion Hidden Asset for Google?

Is a hidden gem getting lost amid Google's dominating position in Web search and advertising and the tech giant's rising position with its Android software?

Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster argues that Chrome, which has become the second most popular web browser with about 26 percent market share by StatCounter's figures, is "a meaningful, underappreciated asset of Google . Based on Google's recent search distribution deal with Mozilla for Firefox, we believe Chrome could be worth over $1 billion to Google."

Munster's math is simple.

Last month, Google and Firefox signed a three-year extension for $900 million.

Munster assumes that Chrome could generate about $300 million in annual revenue at the same market share it has now.

Assigning a multiple of five times revenue, Munster says Chrome could be worth $1.5 billion.

"Since Chrome is likely growing faster given that it is taking market share and Firefox is losing, we believe Chrome could be attributed a higher annual revenue assumption than Firefox and would likely be worth more than $2 billion as a standalone entity," Munster writes.

For some context, if Chrome was its own $2 billion company, it would only be larger than two constituents of the Standard & Poor's 500 — Supervalue and Federated Investors.

Google itself has a market cap of nearly $215 billion, making Chrome's contribution small even using Munster's math.

That said, Munster believes Chrome, which launched only three years ago, "enables Google to push other browser providers to continue to innovate, in turn enabling Google's services to take advantage of better browsers to deliver richer experiences to users.

However, given Chrome's success, we believe it could mark a way to keep search distribution costs from other browsers in check long-term (beyond two years)."

Of course, Microsoft still dominates with its Internet Explorer browser, gaining more than 40 percent of market share, while Firefox comes in third with a market share of 25 percent.

Chrome's growth rate has been impressive, with Google noting that the 200 million users in the third quarter was up 100 percent from the year-ago period.

Munster has an "overweight" rating on Google with a $720 price target, which he has maintained since Oct. 14. By comparison, Jefferies came out only two days ago with a "buy" rating and a whopping $850 price target.

Additional News: Google Wrapping Up 2011 High

Additional Views: Terranova's Worst Trade of 2011: Google

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