Google misses revenue forecasts, but claims 90 million on Google+

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Internet giant Google has disappointed investors a bit, reporting net revenues of $8.13 billion for the fourth quarter of 2011. The figure is lower than the consensus estimate of nearly $8.4 billion expected by many market watchers, and even lower than the pessimistic $8.31 billion forecast by Wells Fargo. Google’s results had an immediate impact on the company’s stock price, which dropped sharply in after-hours trading immediately after Google published its results.

However, in putting a positive spin on Google’s performance, CEO Larry Page noted that the company’s revenue for the full 2011 calendar year was up 29 percent, and the fourth quarter was the first time the company had exceeded $10 billion in gross revenue — it drew in $10.58 billion, but paid $2.45 billion in traffic acquisition costs, leading to the $8.13 billion final revenue total.

However, Page also highlighted what may be a major asset for Google looking forward: He claimed Google’s nascent social network Google+ now claims some 90 million users, more than double the number of users Google touted for the service just three months ago.

Some of the Google+ momentum is no doubt fueled by Android activations. Google claims there are now some 250 million Android devices in use around the world, and new Android devices are being activated at a rate of 700,000 per day. Last month, Ancestry.com founder Paul Allen forecast Google+ could reach some 400 million users by the end of 2012. Allen’s analysis was greeted with some skepticism, but Google’s claim of 90 million Google+ users is already ahead of Allen’s forecast for Google+ growth.

Google also noted that its Gmail service now boasts 350 million users worldwide — again, this is boosted by Android activations — putting it in the same ballpark as Microsoft’s Windows Live Hotmail and Yahoo Mail as a top-tier email service. All three seem to have between 325 and 350 million users now.

On the financial side, Google also acknowledged its needs to shore up its core display advertising businesses, noting the company was receiving 8 percent less revenue per click, yet paying its partners 18 percent more to acquire traffic. However, that slowdown is unlikely to pose a significant problem to Google in the short or medium term: The company has more than $44 billion in cash and short-term securities in the bank.

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