Google stock scales $1,000 a share

New York TimesOctober 18, 2013 

— Google has done something few companies do in the stock market: It has joined the $1,000 club.

Early Friday, Google’s share price jumped higher than that price for the first time, marking another milestone in its remarkable ascent from $85 in its public offering in 2004.

The shares jumped nearly 14 percent after a better-than-expected earnings release late Thursday. The stock closed Friday at $1,011.48, up $122.60. It was the first time in several quarters that Google, which for years exceeded analysts’ expectations, had once again beat what Wall Street thought it could earn.

The share gain made Google – already one of the world’s most valuable companies – one of the few in which buying a single share costs more than $1,000. Others include Priceline.com, the online-travel company, and Seaboard, which processes turkeys and hogs.

In some ways, Google’s investors are betting that quantity can beat quality. Google’s challenge has been lower prices for the ads it put on its own and others’ Web pages. Much of the traditional market for these ads has been saturated, and Google has been trying to put more ads on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Mobile ads tend to make less money for Google because people click on them less often.

In Thursday’s earnings report, however, Google executives emphasized the enormous number of mobile devices on which it now places ads and indicated that the sheer number of mobile outlets was set to keep growing.

Analysts were guardedly positive about Google’s performance. Until Friday’s rise, Google stock had performed about as well as the overall Nasdaq market and Microsoft this year. All three have performed worse than Yahoo, which turned in lower-than-expected earnings this week.

“I have no problem with the stock showing some life,” said Jordan Rohan, an Internet analyst at Stifel Nicolaus. “The quarter was good enough – a few blemishes are being overlooked today.”

Overall, Google’s quarterly numbers showed its audience spending more time on mobile devices and Google scrambling to address this market. The traditional business of people clicking ads on desktop and laptop computers was flat last quarter, according to Search Agency, a digital marketing firm. Clicks on phones more than doubled, the research company said, while tablet clicks were up 63 percent.

Much of the growth in mobile was initially in the developed world, where ad prices are generally higher. As the use of smartphones and tablets spreads into developing economies, the revenue per user is likely to drop, affecting overall profits unless Google can grow even faster in these markets.

Google is also trying to make ads more personal, by doing things like looking at where people are physically or what their previous habits have been. While this yields more profitable ads for Google, because people are generally more likely to click on things targeted at them, it also can run afoul of privacy advocates and regulators.

Another bright spot in Google’s earnings, though a relatively small one, was Google’s “other” category, which is believed to consist mostly of sales to businesses of Google Apps, Google’s alternative to Microsoft’s office communications and productivity software. This revenue was $1.23 billion, an increase of 85 percent from the third quarter of 2012.

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