Google shares hit record high, find favor on Street

SAN FRANCISCO Mon Sep 24, 2012 1:45pm EDT

A security personnel answers a call at the reception counter of the Google office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad February 6, 2012. REUTERS/Krishnendu Halder

A security personnel answers a call at the reception counter of the Google office in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad February 6, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Krishnendu Halder

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc shares set an all-time high on Monday, with the Web giant's reliable advertising business back in vogue among Wall Street investors disenchanted with younger social media companies.

The stock reached $748.90 in afternoon trading, inching past a previous record set in November 2007 of $747.24. It traded below $300 in 2009 during the global economic crisis and remained under pressure in the ensuing years as investors worried that Google's best years were behind it.

The world's No.1 search engine, which generated $38 billion in revenue last year, now looks increasingly attractive compared with a new crop of social Web companies, analysts say.

Facebook Inc, as well as once-hot companies Zynga Inc and Groupon Inc, came to the public markets amid sky-high expectations during the past year, but have fallen out of favor on concerns about their future business prospects.

"The markets have to come to appreciate that Google's been making money hand over fist all this time," said Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research Group.

Google's lucrative search advertising business, as well as its efforts expanding into display and mobile advertising, have helped the company maintain robust revenue growth.

In contrast, Facebook faces much more uncertainty.

"It's so new that there's a lack of data points for anyone to point to," Wieser said.

AT THE HELM

The stock was up almost 2 percent at $748.20 in early afternoon trade. It has surged roughly 27 percent since mid-July, compared with the Dow Jones Industrial Average's roughly 6 percent gain and a 9.5 percent rise on the Nasdaq.

But at roughly 17 times expected 2012 earnings, it still trades at a hefty discount to Facebook's roughly 47 price-earnings multiple.

Google's rising stock price comes about a year-and-a-half after co-founder Larry Page returned to the chief executive's role, replacing Eric Schmidt, who had the helm of the Web company for the previous decade.

Page has moved aggressively to pare the company's sprawling portfolio of products, eliminating projects involving green energy and health among others, while stepping up Google's social networking efforts.

But many of the challenges that pressured its stock in the past have not gone away. The company's ability to manage the $12.5 billion acquisition of Motorola Mobility -- Google's first major foray into the lower-margin hardware business -- remains unproven.

And Google is now facing significant regulatory scrutiny around the world, including antitrust investigations in the United States and in Europe.

(Editing by Tim Dobbyn)

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