Monday, January 22, 2007

GOOGLE- When will reality hit?

Yesterday I wrote about the valuation of Starbucks, a great company that is costing shareholders money not because of any management failing but because investors had bid up the price of SBUX shares to levels that are sure to disappoint. Now we turn to another high flyer, Google (GOOG).

After a 2004 IPO Google has exploded to the upside with shares going from $100 a share to the $489 they sit at today. Revenues and earnings have also jumped. Earnings grew 243% in 2005 and in 2006, it looks like earnings will grow about 75%. Revenues doubled from 2004 to 2005 and are up about 65% from 2005 to 2006. The stock was a world beater in 2005 jumping $222 (115%) but in 2006 just meandered along up only $17.92 for the year or a pedestrian 3.8%. It has a pe in the stratosphere at 62 times 2006 earnings.

Thinking of jumping on this ship? Please don't. Why, you ask? Let's look.

Google cannot continue to grow at this clip. The law of large numbers tell us that at a certain point, percentage growth cannot continue. At this rate Google will equal the $44 billion in revenue Microsoft took 17 years to achieve in the next 2. Won't happen. But, Google's stock is priced for this event. What happens when Google does not deliver this growth? The stock gets a haircut, not a trim but a haircut, who knows, maybe even a shave. Now, just because Google does not deliver this growth is not by any means an indictment of managements ability. Quite the contrary to take a company from $1.4 billion in revenue to approx. $10 billion in 3 years is quite a feat. To go from that $10 billion to $17 billion to justify the 65 pe ratio based on current growth would require a revenue increase in dollars equal to the increases in 2004 and 2005 combined! If we extend this current growth out to 2008, that would require 2008 earning to grow an additional $11.4 billion dollars (more that all the revenue from 2006).

Management is not really helping its cause here either. In 2004 when it went public Google had 277 million shares outstanding, now today we stand at 311 million. That is a 12% increase in the shares outstanding which further dilutes results on a per share basis. In this respect they are slowing their per share growth due to the dilution. These factors are headwinds working against share appreciation.

Managements actions have assumed an overvaluation of the shares. When a company believes its stock to be undervalued, they will take excess dollars and buy those shares back believing that to be the best use of that dollar. The true value of the dollar of stock is greater than the cost of one dollar. When they believe the stock to be inflated, they use it for acquisitions, the thinking being that a dollar of stock has more purchasing power than a dollar of currency due its inflated level. Google recently purchased You Tube in a $1.5 billion stock transaction.

What does all this mean? Simple, the growth rates for both revenues and earnings for Google must diminish very soon. When that happens the multiple that buyers of Google's stock will pay will diminish with it. This will cause the price of Google's stock to fall and fall hard from its lofty levels. I want to stress that Google is NOT expensive because it is $489 dollars a share, it is expensive because that $489 in relation to its earnings and future growth is just too much.

The average of the estimates I can find for Google for 2007 are in the range of $13.85 per share. when you consider 2006 looks to end up around $10.30 a share, kudos to management, they are delivering 33% growth. Here is your problem. The stock price has growth of 60% factored into it. What does this mean? If investors will pay 60 times earnings for a stock growing 60% a year, why would they pay that for a stock growing 1/2 that? Answer? They won't........

You should expect the multiple for Google to contract to a range commensurate with its growth rate. If that rate this year is around 30% expect the pe to shrink to about 30 times 2007 earnings. That give us a price for Google shares of about $450 a share. In other words, Google is overpriced. It is priced for its current growth rate, when that rate slows as it must (law of large numbers) its price will fall.

Google is a great company with a wonderful product, its stock is just too expensive.

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