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Google to ride busy holidays, faces growth question

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Google Inc was expected to report a 22% jump in fourth-quarter revenue thanks to a busy holiday season, though it was due to face questions about long-term growth when it unveiled results on Thursday.

Shares of the world’s No 1 Internet search engine underperformed the market in 2010 but have gained roughly 6% in the past three weeks as investors anticipate that Google will benefit from healthy online advertising spending.

“Any kind of pick-up in activity in e-commerce should translate into strong search advertising,” said Yun Kim, analyst at Gleacher & Company.

Looking farther ahead, its money-making efforts outside of its flagship search business may prove increasingly important to investors.

Google, which is facing increased competition from social networking giant Facebook and iPhone maker Apple Inc, has embarked on a recruiting and acquisition spree, adding more than 3 500 employees to its payroll in the first nine months of 2010 and buying dozens of companies.

In October, Google gave investors what it said was a “one-time” peek at some of its businesses beyond search, showing that it was generating $2,5 billion in revenue from display advertisements on an annualised run rate, and $1 billion from its mobile business.

That update helped reassure investors that the company’s efforts to diversify revenue beyond search advertising were bearing fruit, and Google’s shares jumped roughly 10% following the earnings conference call in which the company gave (disclosed) the figures.

While Google’s Android smartphone software has emerged as one of its most successful new initiatives, the company has yet to find its footing in social networking. Last year, Facebook displaced Google to become the most visited Website in the United States, according to Experian Hitwise.

Google tried unsuccessfully to acquire Groupon, an online coupon site with strong social networking features, for $6 billion in December, according to media reports.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S expect Google to generate net revenue, which excludes fees that Google pays to partner Web sites, of $6,06 billion in the fourth quarter, with earnings per share of $8,09, excluding certain items.

Google has beaten Wall Street revenue expectations for the past five consecutive quarters, missing profit targets once in that period.

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