While the demise of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) has left many owners and bargain hunters of that stock high and dry, Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) has gone the opposite way, rallying not quite 8% after coming in with a better-than-expected earnings report on January 22nd. In the short-term, Google may emerge as a beneficiary of money flows out of Apple and into the internet search giant's stock, but what are the real long-term prospects for Google going forward?
While GOOG has dominance in search engine technology and derives more than 95% of its revenues from pay-per-click Adwords services, the playing field is becoming increasingly crowded at breakneck speed. Further, GOOG stock has failed to keep pace with the general market since 2010, as it has become a super-cap company valued at just under $200 billion; the rapid growth it enjoyed when it was a smaller company as a strong, powerful 30-something has slowly tailed off as the stock reaches "middle age." This price path is not dissimilar to other former big stock leaders of the past such as International Business Machines (NYSE:IBM), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT), and Cisco Systems (NASDAQ:CSCO), all of which enjoyed huge price advances in their younger years but have since become relatively slower, mature companies.
In our view, the critical factor for investors to consider when purchasing Google stock is this: what sort of massively growth-generating "killer app" does it have up its sleeves that would justify an increase in its market cap from current levels? Ideally, an investor looking for growth would like to see a price move of 50-100% in one year, but this would send Google's market cap soaring towards $300-400 billion. Where among its broadening menu of product offerings, from tablets and smartphones to search, online shopping, and social media do we find anything capable of producing the huge top-line growth that will translate into something more than the 12% earnings growth seen in its most recently reported quarter?
Google does have plans to wire homes with high-speed internet and video, is now manufacturing tablets and smartphones through newly acquired Motorola Mobile, and is expected to develop a service that will help retailers offer same-day delivery of goods to online shoppers. But none of these are "killer apps." Without a major driver for forward earnings growth, even trading at only 16 times forward 12-month earnings estimates, Google's current stock price might still be considered somewhat rich for a company that is expected to grow earnings 5% in the next quarter, according to analysts' estimates, and just under 15% on an annual basis for the next four years.
Chart 1 - Google daily chart. ©2013 Stockcharts.com
While it is difficult to imagine what could drive strong growth in Google going forward, the technical picture in the stock has improved. As we can see in Chart 1, it has even improved to the point where the stock was able to generate an upside gap and base-breakout that has taken the stock very near to its all-time high reached in October of last year. If something significant is afoot at Google, then the first place it will show up will be in the price/volume action of the stock. Over the past week or so Google has exhibited strong action in this regard following its strong January earnings report. In our view, one does not have to have a strong opinion to continue holding the stock, since if the stock does have strong upside price potential going forward it should easily hold up above the 740 price level, roughly the level of its recent trendline base-breakout, as can be seen in Chart 1. Thus, in our view, Google is a "hold" until and unless it breaks down through the 740 level or if it again begins to lag the pace of the general market as it has done in the recent past. For investors who find a reason to believe strongly in the company's future potential, the stock is in fact in a buyable range, using the 740 price level as a selling guide should the stock fail to hold above its recent breakout.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it. I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.