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Google spends oodles again

The Internet behemoth agrees to pay $3.1 billion for ad firm DoubleClick -- and once more uses its financial strength to head off rivals.

April 14, 2007|Alex Pham | Times Staff Writer

Google Inc. appears to be creating its own Internet bubble.

The online juggernaut on Friday said it reached an agreement to acquire DoubleClick Inc., a New York-based Web advertising company, for $3.1 billion in cash.

If approved by federal regulators, the deal would be the largest in 9-year-old Google's history, and the amount more than double what the search engine giant paid for YouTube in November.

DoubleClick would boost Google's expansion beyond the simple text ads that generated the vast majority of its $11 billion in 2006 revenue.

The deal also shows Google's willingness to use its financial muscle to snatch strategically important targets from competitors. Microsoft Corp. reportedly had been bidding for DoubleClick, whose technology enables ad agencies to place banner ads on many popular websites and measure marketing campaigns.

"Google is more than the 800-pound gorilla; they've become the 8,000-pound gorilla," said investment banker Ken Marlin, using a term once reserved for Microsoft. "They can outbid anybody. Google has become a veritable cash machine. At this point, Google has enough purchasing power to buy up small countries."

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google would pay nearly three times the $1.1 billion DoubleClick was sold for just two years ago when it went private.

Google Chief Executive Eric Schmidt, in a conference call with analysts, defended the cost as a worthy investment.

"When we looked at DoubleClick, we felt after a very detailed financial analysis that we could afford the price," Schmidt said. "And in fact it is a very good deal for our shareholders."

Some analysts agreed, saying that Google could solidify its dominance as the world's biggest broker in the $17-billion Web advertising market and wring profit from DoubleClick. The acquisition also would help Google better challenge Yahoo Inc., Time Warner Inc.'s AOL and Microsoft's MSN in selling display ads.

The deal pairs DoubleClick's potent network of display advertising with Google's industry-leading network of text ads on blogs, newspaper sites and other online publishers.

"What [Google] really bought is the relationships with big website owners," said Tim Vanderhook, CEO of Specific Media Inc., an Irvine-based online advertising network. "But those relationships certainly aren't coming cheap."

Google shares, which had dropped $1.10 to $466.29 in regular trading, lost 55 cents after hours, which was when the deal was announced.

Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray, attributed the decline to investor uncertainty about DoubleClick's finances, which were not disclosed. The private company is controlled by San Francisco private-equity firm Hellman & Friedman.

Google enjoys a market capitalization of $145 billion and had $11.2 billion in cash and marketable securities as of Dec. 31.

"I think it's important to recognize that the deal value, while high, represents a fraction of Google's market capitalization and financial weight," said Derek Brown, an analyst with Cantor Fitzgerald.

Google has been throwing that weight around to strike deals that its competitors consider too rich. In 2006, Google paid $1.65 billion in stock for YouTube to keep the online video company away from rivals such as Yahoo, News Corp. and Viacom Inc. That same year, it won a coveted deal by guaranteeing payments of $900 million to deliver Web search and ads on MySpace. And in 2005, it outmaneuvered Microsoft to strike a search-related advertising deal with AOL in exchange for a $1-billion investment.

Google and DoubleClick said they expected the deal to close by year's end.

"We think they'll make money with DoubleClick," said Marlin, managing partner of Marlin & Associates. "There are not very many companies that have the assets Google has and the ability to leverage those assets."

alex.pham@latimes.com

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