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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Saturday, March 4, 2006

Google working to keep investors better informed

By Michael Liedtke
Associated Press

Google Inc., headquartered in Mountain View, Calif., fancies itself as one of the world's smartest companies, but it's searching for a way to improve its communications with investors without compromising its unconventional principles.

Associated Press library photo

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SAN FRANCISCO Google Inc.'s declared mission is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible except when the data involve its own financial forecasts.

Google still refuses to supply earnings projections routinely dispensed by other high-profile companies, part of its founders' aversion to Wall Street's conventions. But the online search engine leader appears to be striving to share more business details with investors.

If Google keeps investors better informed, it might help stabilize a stock that has been swinging wildly. In just the past two months, Google's stock price has soared as high as $475.11 and sunk as low as $338.51 a fluctuation affecting about $40 billion in shareholder wealth.

The stock's volatility is probably one of the main reasons that Google hasn't been included in the blue-chip Standard & Poor's 500 index, even though it's already one of the world's most valuable companies, said Hoefer and Arnett analyst Martin Pyykkonen.

"It looks like Google is going through a learning process right now," Pyykkonen said.

The latest signs of Google's evolution as a publicly held company emerged this week when its top executives opened up to investors during separate meetings in New York and the company's Mountain View, Calif., headquarters.

The two presentations provoked radically different reactions.

After Chief Financial Officer George Reyes mentioned the likelihood of slowing revenue growth, Google's stock price plummeted. Two days later, the shares rebounded as Reyes and other executives met with analysts and oozed optimism that belied Reyes' earlier remarks.

While drawing comfort from Google's confident tone, analysts also seemed impressed with the company's earnest approach to a meeting that's considered one of Wall Street's best chances to glean more insights about the business.

The more serious attitude contrasted sharply with Google's first analyst meeting last year, when the company seemed more interested in discussing its daily menu of free food than its balance sheet.

"Rather than meeting the chef, we heard more from the CFO and even had a review of the financials," Merrill Lynch analyst Lauren Fine wrote yesterday in a research note complimenting this year's meeting.

UBS analyst Benjamin Schachter also praised Google for answering virtually all 23 questions that he had submitted heading into Thursday's session. "We thought the new openness was refreshing," Schachter wrote.

Investors seemed to agree as Google's stock price rose steadily during Thursday's live Webcast of the analyst meeting. The reaction was more sedate yesterday as Google's shares edged up $1.73 to close at $378.18 on the Nasdaq Stock Market.

Google's stock still hasn't completely recovered from the downturn triggered by Reyes' comments leading up to the analyst meeting.

Reyes didn't really say anything incredibly new Google's rapid growth had already slowed slightly in the fourth quarter, a trend likely to continue as the company's size increases.

When a company becomes larger, its earnings inevitably increase by a lower percentage than its early phase a phenomenon that Reyes described as the "law of large numbers."

"Nothing (Reyes) said was unreasonable," said Standard & Poor's analyst Scott Kessler. "It was just a matter of interpretation."

Kessler believes one reason why Reyes' comments startled investors is because Google's management has largely confined its Wall Street communications to the quarterly conference calls held every three months to review the latest financial results.