Top Analyst Preview: Google

Last year, investors wondered when Google would be a $1000 stock. Ahead of earnings Thursday, they’re trying to determine if it will remain north of $300.

Google ended 2008 with the most sobering quarter in its 10-year history, and there's little reason to believe the upcoming report will bring much joy to the once high-flying company.

Although the search giant sailed through the first half of last year, it has struggled in recent months as more advertisers curtail their spending amid the recession. Furthermore, consumers have scaled back their online shopping — a troubling trend for Google because clicking on ads accounts for most of the company's revenue.

In a sign management expects its revenue to remain relatively flat or perhaps even erode for the first time in Google's history, the company has been cutting costs. Google already has acknowledged jettisoning a significant number of its 10,000 contractors, although it has declined to say how many. In the past week, the company also disclosed it laid off 100 of its own workers.

The purge represents just a sliver of a payroll spanning 20,100 employees, but it marks a milestone in the company's maturation. Management had never previously dumped workers except to eliminate overlapping positions following an acquisition.

Citigroup analyst Mark Mahaney tells Fast Money that his expectations are muted for this earnings report.

However, he says long-term he’s a buyer. “The bear case is that we see high single-digit to low double-digit growth year over year… that’s pretty significant out-performance.”

In case you’re wondering, analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Google to earn $4.96 per share on revenue of $4.12 billion. The estimates exclude Google's expenses for employee stock compensation, unusual charges and the revenue that the company pays to its advertising partners.

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Trader disclosure: On Jan. 21th, 2008, the following stocks and commodities mentioned or intended to be mentioned on CNBC’s Fast Money were owned by the Fast Money traders; Macke Owns (MCD), (BAC), (C), (TM), (MSFT); Seymour Owns (AAPL), (BAC), (F), (EEM), (FXI), (TSO); Finerman's Firm Owns (DNA), (AEO), (MSFT), (PM); Finerman's Firm Is Short (IYR), (IJR), (IWM), (MDY), (SPY), (USO); Najarian Owns (EEM) Call Spread; Najarian Owns (FCX) & (FCX) Short Calls; Najarian Owns (MS) Stock; Najarian Owns (MS) Short Calls & Short Put Spread; Najarian Owns (NVLS) Calls; Najarian Owns (PALM) Call Spread; Najarian Owns (XME) Long Calls; Najarian Owns (APPL) Call Spread; Najarian is Long (PALM) Call Spread; Najarian Owns (GGB) Long Calls

Disclosures For Mark Mahaney:
Citigroup Global Markets Inc. or an affiliate received compensation for products and services other than investment banking services from Google Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Yahoo! Inc in the past 12 months

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. currently has, or had within the past 12 months, the following as clients, and the services provided were non-investment-banking, securities-related: Google Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Yahoo! Inc.

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. currently has, or had within the past 12 months, the following as clients, and the services provided were non-investment-banking, non-securities-related: Google Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Yahoo! Inc.

The Firm is a market maker in the publicly traded equity securities of Google Inc, Amazon.com Inc, Yahoo! Inc

Citigroup Global Markets Inc. or its affiliates beneficially owns 1% or more of any class of common equity securities of Yahoo! Inc.