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Analyst questions timing of Google stock repricing plan

By Source Seeker on Mon, 03/09/09 - 10:52am.

At Google's last earnings call, the company announced a stock-swap program designed to keep its employees--most of whom hold stock options that are underwater--motivated and within the Google fold. But some analysts question how recent remarks by CEO Eric Schmidt have left the stock price even more battered than usual, making the stock-swap program an even better deal for employees--but leaving shareholders in the lurch.

MediaPost News quotes Global Equities Research Analyst Trip Chowdrhy, who warned investors that Google's management is "manipulating" the stock price to give employees better repricing options. At issue are recent remarks by Schmidt, where he notes that Google is not immune to the recession and that the current economic conditions are "dire." In a research note distributed Friday, Chowdry says:

"The timing of Eric Schmidt's negative comments and the option repricing for employees, etc., are too coincidental. However, you can make your own judgment. We just don't feel comfortable with what we observe."

Not surprisingly, Google PR dismisses the charges out of hand, with spokeswoman Jane Penner noting that last week's comments from Schmidt echo similar sentiments he and others presented as far back as October:

"At our quarterly earnings call in October we talked about Google being in uncharted territory," she said. "In January, we described the fourth quarter as the easy part. We said nothing different last week."

Still, Schmidt did seem to be making the media rounds last week, and his remarks did seem more pessimistic than usual, with some analysts assuming he was paving the way for less-than-stellar future earnings reports. Could Schmidt's timing be due to the fact that the stock repricing program ended today, and is based on Google's closing stock price on Friday--when it had slumped to $308.57 per share?

Maybe. But the more likely scenario is that rather than being a victim of Schmidt's loose lips, Google's stock price dropped primarily because the rest of the market was in freefall last week. Reacting to poor news from both carmakers and China, the market swooned, posting a 6.17% decline in the Dow Industrials average, along with a 7.03% decline by the S&P 500 Index and a 6.10% drop in the Nasdaq Composite index. Schmidt's "manipulation" probably had very little to do with it.

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