All eyes on Google earnings

Google reports its Q1 2009 earnings today (listen in on the call at 4:30 p.m. ET), and while most analysts expect Google to meet or slightly exceed expectations, others say the consequences of a miss could be catastrophic, especially for the recent stock rally in the tech sector.

Like it or not, Google has become a kind of technology bellwether, on the order of an Intel, IBM or Microsoft. Daily Finance reports that analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expect Google to report a Q1 profit of $4.93 a share and $4.1 billion in revenue for the quarter ended March 31. And all eyes are on whether it meets, exceeds or misses those numbers. As the DF article notes:

If [Google's numbers are] impressive, they could spark a tech rally. If unimpressive, recent tech gains will be quickly washed away.

Google never provides any guidance, so analysts don't have much to go on. But for the most part, they expect Google to slightly beat expectations. CNBC's Jim Goldman quotes a cheat sheet posted by Citi analyst Mark Mahaney, where he sets the stage:

Paid Click growth should see be somewhere between 10 percent and 14 percent, more than 14 percent would be positive, less than 10 percent would be negative; Google web sites gross revenue should come in between $3.54 billion and $3.74 billion; Network Sites gross revenue should be within the $1.54 billion and $1.69 billion range; North American revenue should see a decline of between 3 percent and 7 percent; capex spending should be between $400 million and $600 million; and headcount should come in unchanged.

Google has continually surprised investors with its strong numbers, quarter after quarter. But that was before the tsunami-like wave of economic turmoil crashed over just about everything. Google still pulls in 97% of its revenues from search advertising (a segment that has been under a lot of pressure lately), and it must be getting harder and harder to keep posting good numbers. It will be interesting to see what happens: Will it pull out a nice surprise for the tech sector today, or will it spark yet another market dive?

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