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At the end of a frantic day of trading in Google, two questions were left.
First, had the internet search giant’s chief financial officer really said anything new when he said that growth would be slower in future? And secondly, how could the market’s reaction possibly have been so volatile?
Google ended at $362.62, down 7.11 per cent for the day, at a level higher than its closing price of only two weeks ago. But at one point, its shares had fallen 13 per cent to $338.51. Volume for the day was 39.1m shares, more than triple its average daily volume.
The trigger for all this activity came from George Reyes, Google’s chief financial officer.
He commented at an investors’ conference held by investment bank Merrill Lynch that the company had largely completed its efforts to squeeze more advertising revenues from its core search engine.
He said: “Most of what’s left is just organic growth, which means you have to grow your traffic and your monetisation, so I think now our growth rates are slowing and you see that each and every quarter and we are going to have to find other ways to monetise the business.”
Henry Blodget, who keeps a well-known blog on internet companies, said: “This is what some observers had suspected, but to my knowledge it had not yet been confirmed by the company. The question, therefore, is what the “organic” growth rate is and whether the first-quarter numbers will show a significant deceleration from fourth quarter.”
He said the comments were “news” and “not positive news.”
Mr Reyes subsequently commented that Google was “subject to the law of big numbers” – that it is harder to achieve big percentage increases with a company that is already big.
Merrill Lynch, in a note summing up its own conference, commented that it was the first time Google had said this.
Other analysts questioned the importance of the conference.
John Janedis of Bank of America said there was “nothing new here”, and left earnings and revenue expectations intact.
Sasa Zorovic, analyst at Oppenheimer, said he believed Mr Reyes’ comments “were likely not intended to reset investors’ expectations about growth prospects”. He said he was likely to have been talking about growth initiatives away from the core search business, such as account payment services.
Cody Willard, a hedge fund manager who specialises in technology, said: “I can’t fathom that this so-called news out of Google is news at all. My take is that the CFO is simply repeating what the company has said since day one: That they’ll have to figure out new ways to grow.”
Google was already a volatile stock.
For example, its last earnings report, in January, was followed by a 15 per cent fall in after-market trading, most of which was recouped the following day.
Hugh Johnson, chairman and chief investment officer of Johnson Illington Advisor, was not surprised by Google’s volatility. “That reflects the fact that many active managers – primarily hedge fund managers – have substantial long and short positions in the stock. You don’t get volatility of this magnitude unless you have large institutional investors trading on the stock.”
Traders said technical factors had also exacerbated Tuesday’s bumpy ride for the stock. Marc Pado, chief market strategist at Cantor Fitzgerald, said: “At the low of the day, Google still found support at two key technical levels – the low from two weeks ago and the 200 day moving average.
“Once it made the turn off of that low, traders jumped in for a quick bounce, looking to make a quick profit.
“They are not trading on fundamentals.”