SAN DIEGO – To ding Google for reporting higher-than-expected taxes is as silly as anything I've ever heard.
It tells me more about the speculative nature of the stock market than it does anything about Google (GOOG) .
When you do what I do, you ding companies when their tax rates are lower-than-expected because doing so often shows that its executives "made" its numbers with a lower tax rate, resulting in a "low quality" beat.
Conversely, if the tax rate is higher than expected, it could be argued the company suffered a low-quality miss.
My colleague, John Shinal, suggests the tax issue could mean Google isn't doing a good job managing its growth. He may be right, though you could also argue that even SuperCFO, with x-ray powers, couldn't manage that kind of growth as if there were a blueprint — because there isn't one! Read Shinal's column.
Fast-growing companies are bound to stumble, and the faster the growth, the more likely the stumble. There are simply too many twists and turns.
At the stock's current levels, I have no idea or passion as to whether Google is a buy, sell or hold. What I do know is that its stock is a product and victim of Wall Street, none of which has anything to do with whether it's a good company or whether it will be the next Microsoft. It's a victim and product of estimates and stock targets created out of whole cloth.
Will Google go to $400, $600, $2,000? I guess it depends on the mood of the market and the size of the waves.
I do know this: By doing the right thing, and not offering investors earnings "guidance," Google is simply not playing that game. Did I say "doing the right thing" by not offering guidance? You bet. I never have and still don't understand the guidance game, especially by a fast-growing company. (Though, true confessions: As a reporter I love it when they do because it never leaves me without good material. Egg-on-face, which I have suffered myself, always makes for good copy.)
There are simply too many variables, and trying to hit a number on the penny is a sure-fire way for human nature to kick in as managers manage to the Street — pulling this lever or that — and not for the sake of the business. I believe, perhaps naively so, that if a company performs, regardless of the hype or lack thereof, investors will take notice over time. Witness, for example, Walgreen (WAG) , which goes out of its way not to speak to Wall Street.
But more importantly, when a stock gets dinged the way Google did for missing analyst estimates based more on guesswork than anything else, it proves only one thing: In a speculative market such as this, investors buy and sell first, and ask questions later.
The mildly (relatively speaking) knee-jerk reaction to Google is a hint of what investors in some of the highest-flying stocks can expect if and when the party ends.
Speaking of speculation: What's wrong with speculation? Larry Kudlow asked me that Wednesday when I was on his show, "Kudlow & Co." My answer to Larry: "Nothing, as long as — and pardon the oldest cliché out there — investors understand the risk and can find a chair when the music stops."
Riddle me this: Why does a company like Phelps Dodge (PD) trade at sharp discounts to the likes of Applied Materials (AMAT) , when the former seems to do a better job delivering to investors than does the latter. (Check it out!)
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