SAN FRANCISCO — Google Inc.'s stock price barreled through $700 for the first time Wednesday, propelled by a belief that the Internet search leader will become even more profitable as it plants its products and services in new markets.
The Mountain View-based company's shares traded as high as $704.79 before falling back to $700.04 in afternoon trading, up $5.27 for the session. It took less than a month for the stock to leap from $600 to $700, building upon a fervor that has lifted Google's market value by more than 30 percent since mid-September.
During that 6 1/2-week stretch, Google has created an additional $53 billion in shareholder wealth. That dwarfs the total $41 billion market value of another Internet icon, Yahoo Inc., which had a 4-year head start on Google.
The latest surge came after Google confirmed plans to become a bigger player in the Internet's social networking scene, which could morph into an advertising hotbed. Investors also seem enthused about reports that the company is about to unveil a long-rumored operating system designed for mobile phones so it can make more money by distributing ads to people on the go.
The recent rally has made Google Silicon Valley's most valuable publicly held company, supplanting Internet networking supplier Cisco Systems Inc.
With a market value of nearly $220 billion, Google also is now worth more than Warren Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway Inc., whose steadfast refusal to split its stock during the past four decades has left its Class A shares at nearly $130,000.
Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who regard Buffett as an inspiration, so far have resisted requests to split their company's stock so more people could afford to buy a few shares. Their theory: a high stock price tends to attract more patient and knowledgeable investors who pay closer attention to a company's long-term strategy than its ability to hit short-term earnings targets.
The philosophy has generated impressive returns so far. A $10,000 investment in Google's stock at its August 2004 initial public offering price of $85 would now be worth about $82,000.
Brin and Page, both 34, have been the biggest winners by far, with estimated fortunes exceeding $20 billion apiece. At least two other Google executives, Chairman Eric Schmidt and sales chief Omid Kordestani, are billionaires while hundreds of other employees have become millionaires because of their stock holdings in the 9-year-old company.
Wall Street is betting Google is still in its financial infancy, even though it's already on track for a profit of about $5 billion this year on more than $15 billion in revenue.
Analysts are now trying to figure out just high Google's stock might rise in 2008. The average 12-month price target for the shares now stands at $739.23 among analysts polled by Thomson Financial, but that figure seems likely to rise in the next few days. Dinosaur Securities analyst David Garrity on Wednesday issued a bullish report predicting Google's stock will climb to $985 during the next year.
Google has made virtually all of its money so far by displaying text-based advertising links alongside search results and other Web content that includes topics related to the commercial message.
During the past year, Google has introduced new online advertising channels featuring video, graphics and other more compelling features while also extending its marketing machine into television, radio and print.
Now, Google appears intent on shaking up the telecommunications industry by introducing inexpensive cell phones that will make it easier for people to use Google's search engine, maps, e-mail and other applications even when they don't have access to a personal computer.
If it pans out, the new Google phone presumably will give the company a chance to sell more mobile advertising and further boost its profits.
Google's relentless expansion beyond its core search engine underscores management's determination to reshape the business landscape, according to author Stephen Arnold, who has just released a 266-page study analyzing the company's patents and what they may portend for the future.
"I use the term 'Googzilla' to describe the current incarnation of Google," Arnold said. "This idea is that Googzilla is big, powerful, and indifferent to the insects and ants crushed by its massive paws."
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