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7/18/2008
05:49 PM
Richard Martin
Richard Martin
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Is The Air Leaking From Google's Bubble?

Earnings season is in full swing and it's a good moment to pause and review three tech giants that reported in the last two days.

Earnings season is in full swing and it's a good moment to pause and review three tech giants that reported in the last two days.The headliner was Google, which saw its share price plunge after reporting a 39% increase in quarterly revenue over the same period a year ago -- not good enough for investors accustomed to seeing 50% to 60% revenue jumps from the search giant. Google is down nearly 10% today.

Microsoft's stock also swooned, after the Redmond, Wash., software empire reported earnings slightly lighter than analysts' expectations. MS was down 5.5% on Thursday and another 6% today.

The surprise was Nokia, which amid gloomy forecasts for the global handset business managed to post an 8% rise in profits, to $2.18 billion. Nokia was up 8% on Thursday and has solidified those gains today.

I don't have any grand revelations from these numbers, but here are some noteworthy details:

• Google's stumble probably represents less the peak-and-decline that many have predicted for the soaring Mountain View, Calif., firm than "the revelation that Google lives here in the real world with the rest of us, where businesses of every stripe are cutting back on spending in many areas -- including online advertising," as Barron's Tech Trader blogger Eric Savitz writes. Many analysts believe that now is a good time to jump in and buy Google shares at a relative bargain of around $480 (though one analyst, Scott Bleier, president of HybridInvestors.com, says the search leader "has lost its cult status" and could drop into the low 400s by end of year.

It's worth pointing out that at some point Google will inevitably fall victim to the law of large numbers: when your market share creeps toward the 100% mark it's hard to post huge growth numbers every quarter.

• Microsoft's situation is more troubling. Revenue from online services was off-target by $90 million, and sales in the business division, which includes Office, were $70 million short. Add those up and you've got the recipe many have been predicting for Microsoft: its packaged business-software is going to wither slowly in the face of Web-based offerings, including Google Apps, and it's going to have a hard time building its own online software-as-a-service business.

Microsoft executives predict growth of 18% to 20% for the online-services group for the full year, a target that seems wildly optimistic in the current environment.

• Finally there's Nokia, which defied naysayers by selling 122 million phones in the quarter, up 21% year-over-year and 6% sequentially. That's in the face of an overall handset market that could be flat or even decline this year. (Nokia is sticking with its prediction of 10% growth for the overall market in 2008). Best of all, sales from software and services, including the new Ovi Web-services unit, were up 42% from last quarter.

The moral? Espoo, Finland, is a pretty nice place to weather the current economic storm.

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