After plunging more than 10 percent Thursday, when Google (Nasdaq: GOOG), the No. 1 search engine, announced poor third-quarter results prematurely, its shares rebounded at the Friday opening, gaining $2.32, to $697.44.
But at the close, Google shares fell $13.21 to $681.79 or about 2 percent, as U.S. stock markets fell about 1.5 percent.
Google’s Thursday midday plunge would have happened Friday, had the company announced its results after the market close. Instead, they were disclosed early to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission by a contractor.
That’s what happens to high-powered stocks that enjoy meteoric rises like those of the Mountain View, Calif., company, which punched through the $600 and $700 mark for the first time in five years and looked headed to $800.
Instead, Google’s recent high of $774.38, set only on Oct. 5, was almost a setup for a miss. By plunging 10 percent on Thursday, they’re ready to start climbing again, presuming investors believe CEO Larry Page, 39, and his executives overcome challenges.
Look what happened to Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL), the world's most valuable technology company, whose shares have leaped past the $400, $500, $600 and $700 barriers -- all-time records -- over the past 52 weeks.
Apple shares corrected on Oct. 8 and have been bouncing around since. On Friday, they fell $22.84 to $609.80, still nearly 13.5 percent below their record high of $705.07. Next Thursday, the company’s expected to report fourth-quarter earnings.
Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Apple to report blowout results: Earnings are expected to be a record $8.41 billion, or $8.85 a share, on revenue that increases more than $28 percent to $36.23 billion. In the year-ago quarter, Apple reported net income of $6.62 billion, or $7.05 a share.
If it adheres to recent practice, Apple will also disclose sales of products including the iPhone 5 -- available for only eight days in the company’s fourth quarter -- as well as for iPads, iPods, Macbook Pros and other products.
In the current market, a miss on earnings or product sales could be catastrophic for the shares. Apple’s also expected to report full-year revenue of $156.6 billion, dwarfing full-year totals previously reported by Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) and International Business Machines Corp. (NYSE: IBM), the No. 1 and No. 2 computer companies.
Google’s earnings miss “wasn’t all bad,” said analyst Brian Pitz of Jefferies. Big losses at Motorola, in its first quarter under Google, were one factor, as were lower earnings from international customers due to a strong dollar, he said. Foreign exchange lopped $557 million from third-quarter revenue, he estimated.
The company reported net income fell to $2.18 billion, or $6.33 a share, from $2.73 billion, or $8.33 a year ago. Thursday’s plunge wiped out about $32 billion in market value, lowering it to around $227 billion.
Still, Google is bigger than the other search engines, including Bing from Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT), the world's biggest software company, which also reported lower-than-expected earnings, as well as Yahoo (Nasdaq: YHOO), the No. 3 search engine, which reports results next week, Pitz said. Google’s lead in advertising on mobile platforms is growing and will improve, he said.
So Pitz continues to rate Google as a “buy” with a price target of $850, which looks a lot more realistic now than when the shares were at $757.
Other analysts were more cautious. Justin Post at Merrill Lynch cut his rating on Google to “neutral” from “buy” because of the shift to mobile platforms from desktops.
As well, Oppenheimer analyst Jason Helfstein trimmed his rating to “perform” from “outperform” and set a new price target of $800, mainly because he expects lower profit margins.
To illustrate Wall Street’s mentality: Helfstein raised his target price on Google to $800 from $752 only on Monday, because he expected it to beat earnings estimates.