With a market cap of over $200 billion, Google (GOOG) is already being valued highly by investors. The company has, however, experienced some recent events that lead me to believe the stock could appreciate even more.
First of all, Google just released Street View service for Thailand. While Google has been working hard to get pictures of all of Earth's roads for its Google Maps, the Thailand project was especially important because of the country's floods. Indeed, Google hopes to gain some good PR by speeding up its Thailand plans, and David Marx (communications manager for Google's Asia Pacific region) had this to say: "We really wanted to show people that the floods were over and that Thailand was back, and to have (Street View) be useful for tourism around the world." In fact, considering Google has already photographed 34 other countries, Thailand was a pretty natural choice with or without the catastrophic floods.
Besides Google Maps, Google Wallet has also been in the news. Essentially, Google's hit a couple of roadblocks with this technology because two key managers have left the company for greener pastures. Additionally, other companies are coming up with their own mobile payment technologies. For instance, it appears that Google may be forced to share profits with Verizon (VZ) and AT&T (T) in order to keep up with similar applications like ISIS.
Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile collaborated to create ISIS, while Google only has Sprint Nextel (S) on its side, so this could be an uphill battle. Regardless, I am pretty optimistic about Google Wallet because the company will surely benefit from use of its solid brand name. With strong promotions and coupons, Google Wallet should be able to prevail over the competition, which will push this stock higher.
Another interesting story for Google has been its issues with privacy protection. Indeed, French government agency Commission Nationale de l'Informatique recently sent Google a questionnaire about its privacy protection practices. This comes after Google combined the privacy policies for all of its products back in January, thereby affecting all services ranging from YouTube to Google+.
In fact, Google shareholders should be applauding this move since it will help to reduce confusion in the future and save Google from future problems. Additionally, the request for information from Commission Nationale de l'Informatique appears to be harmless. Indeed, seeing as Google is one of the biggest players on today's Internet, it would be odd if Google didn't receive this type of government attention. If this news has been holding back Google's stock, I fully expect it to move higher as investors realize that Google's privacy practices aren't particularly threatening.
Meanwhile, Google figures to benefit from weak competition in the online arena. With a trailing twelve-month EPS of only 12 cents per share, AOL's (AOL) current strategy seems a bit confused. The company has a wide variety of brands that don't effectively make use of the AOL brand, which I believe still has some value. While the new Huffington iPad magazine should bring in additional advertising revenue, I can't justify paying more than $15 for this stock. (At the time of this writing, it was trading for just over $17.50).
In my estimation, Yahoo! (YHOO) is somewhat better off than AOL, but still not as worthy of an investment as Google. The company's news sites (most notably Sports, Finance, etc.) are very well integrated and should be seen as a valuable takeover target. On the other hand, the company is still reeling from corporate turmoil, which started months ago with the firing of former CEO Carol Bartz.
As detailed in this Reuters article, famous hedge fund Third Point is attempting to get some new members on Yahoo's board of directors, presumably to take stronger control of the company's future direction. Jeff Zucker, Michael Wolf, and Harry Wilson are three names that are being tossed around in the rumor mill. Meanwhile, Reuters is also reporting that job cuts could be on the way and that some lines of Yahoo's business may be sold off entirely. Like AOL, it's hard to justify paying more than $15 per share for this stock.
On the smartphone front, Google's biggest competitor figures to be Apple (AAPL). Although I have long been a fan of Apple stock, the latest price appreciation has even me curbing my enthusiasm. The $600 mark could be an important milestone that keeps Apple stock in check for a little while. As always, the key driver of stock price appreciation for Apple will be its ability to innovate, and for the time being it's hard to see what will happen beyond iPhone 5 and iPad 3.
In fact, the company is even seeing some backlash from its iPad 3 because consumers are starting to question how much these upgrades are really worth. The newest iPad gets significantly hotter than its predecessors, and there have also been complaints about the product's Wi-Fi capabilities. I recommend that investors keep a close eye on Apple's headlines, though, because it is certainly possible that the company has something great up its sleeves. I'm just not sure what it is yet.
As always, investors should also take a look at the statement of cash flows for Google; $3.6 billion flowed out of the company during 2011, and much of that was caused by aggressive acquisitions. Indeed, with the economy improving, many of Google's newly acquired businesses should see solid growth. Furthermore, operating cash flows for 2011 were particularly healthy at $14.6 billion.
Clearly, Google looks like a solid buy right now. With innovative products like Google Wallet and Google Maps' Street View, I fully expect Google to experience high revenue growth. While the company's privacy policies are a tad controversial, I highly doubt there will be issues going forward. Additionally, weak competition in the Internet arena and a strong financial standing are two more reasons why investors should consider this stock.
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.