Pessimism has been replaced by optimism: After Google shares traded down 1.2 percent today, traders responded to the release of Google's first-quarter earnings by sending the shares up nearly 12 percent in after-hours trading, crossing $500. Fear, in short, has been replaced by greed. As I expected, the call was filled with chest-thumping glee from never-modest CEO Eric Schmidt. That's why I listen, by the way — not to hear numbers I could read in analyst reports, but to hear how Google's executives talk about the company on one of the brief occasions that they leave the bubble of the Googleplex. Live coverage, starting at 1:30 p.m. Pacific:
1:30 p.m. Pacific: Waiting for the call to start. I note that Eric Schmidt's promise to rein in hiring hasn't had much effect. Aside from the DoubleClick acquisition, which added 1,500 employees, Google itself hired 851 employees. Google's employee count, continues to expand at roughly 5 percent a quarter. As of the end of March, before laying off roughly 150 DoubleClickers, Google had 19,156 employees. At that rate, Google will have 27,000 employees by the end of 2009.
1:35 p.m.: The usual crew: CEO Eric Schmidt, Larry and Sergey, outgoing CFO George Reyes, and top executives Jonathan Rosenberg and Omid Kordestani. Sergey must have hightailed it back from Tahiti, where he was recently spotted consorting with blog mogul Arianna Huffington and Wendi Deng, wife of News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch.
1:37 p.m.: Schmidt says that Google is performing well "regardless of the business environment" and that its strategy is "transformative." See what I meant by "chest-thumping glee"? He addresses concern about Google's paid clicks, saying growth was "higher than third parties had speculated."
1:39 p.m.: Schmidt talks about its Web-based apps business, saying "all the pieces are coming together." He cites a partnership with Salesforce.com, but doesn't give any numbers. In other words, it's not a real business yet.
1:40 p.m.: Reyes, who resigned as CFO last August but still hasn't been replaced, recites the figures found in the press release. Is his sole remaining duty sparing Schmidt from having to utter a sentence with a number in it during this call? He's stumbling over simple phrases as he reads from a script.
1:44 p.m.: "Approximately 15 percent of the DoubleClick U.S. workforce" — another 200 or so — "are expected to leave in the near term," says Reyes, because they are in "transitional" roles.
1:46 p.m.: Sergey Brin takes the mic. He starts by talking about "almost 100 search improvements" made in the quarter. A lot of those, he says, are international — in other words, nothing that U.S. users will see. Google is increasingly showing non-website results, like books, images, and videos, in its search results. He claims mobile growth, but doesn't give any numbers.
1:52 p.m.: Larry Page starts talking about ads. He says Google has introduced demographic targeting for social networks, using gender and age information. The lack of this up until the recent quarter might explain why Google's social-network ads have performed so poorly. Until now, instead of fessing up to this basic technological shortcoming, Google has been blaming partners like MySpace for lower-than-expected revenues.
1:54 p.m.: Page says Google is "really excited" about YouTube ads. As he is about the acquisition of DoubleClick. As he is about the Salesforce.com partnership. Is there anything he's bored by? In a typical nerd mistake, he throws out terms like "wikis" and "cloud applications" without defining them for the Wall Street analysts who are listening, but not particularly caring.
1:57 p.m.: Schmidt wraps up quickly and goes to questions.
1:58 p.m.: Question on the search for a new chief financial officer. "We're very pleased George has remained," says Schmidt. "We have not made any offers yet." That, according to insiders familiar with the search, is simply a lie: Google has made two offers to prospective CFOs, both of whom have declined.
2:00 p.m.: Sales chief Omid Kordestani says that Toyota and Dunkin' Donuts, among others, have signed up as YouTube advertisers.
2:02 p.m.: Sergey Brin, who declared his hatred of Web banners years ago when Google launched its simple text ads, fields a question about putting banners on Google-owned sites. He notes that YouTube already carries banners, and other sites like Google Images and social network Orkut might also add them.
2:05 p.m.: Schmidt says the company hasn't seen any problems from the larger economy, batting away suggestions the U.S. is heading into an advertising recession. He says that in internal conversations, Google executives have concluded that it would do well even if a recession came, because its ads are so targeted.
2:10 p.m.: Brin fields a question about mobile ads. He says in markets where the devices and networks work well — "basically, Japan" — the ads perform well.
2:14 p.m.: Jonathan Rosenberg, who normally handles product management, is fielding a simple question about seasonality by offering a baroque explanation involving Easter's and a leap year. I suppose Google Calendar does fall under his purview.
2:17 p.m.: Talking about the failure of Google's ads to perform well on social networks, Larry Page turns to upspeak: "It's an area where we've applied a lot of new technologies?" He goes on to say that Google is "optimistic" and getting advertisers to embrace new tools "takes some time." In other words: Not our fault, and technology will fix everything once the Luddites die off.
2:20 p.m.: Kordestani admits that in retail, in the first quarter, Google has seen some "postponements" of budgets, but that other industries have made up for the shortfalls. As he flails, Jonathan Rosenberg, who's not actually in charge of advertising, jumps in. Schmidt finally cuts the answer short and goes to the next question.
2:28 p.m.: Kordestani fumbles another question about "integrated advertising" — campaigns which use search adds, display, and YouTube — with a rambling nonanswer.
2:34 p.m.: An analyst asks if U.S. revenues were flat quarter-over-quarter, not counting DoubleClick's contribution. Schmidt: "We know that it's not macroeconomic. It can have as much to do with the timing of deals." The classic excuse of enterprise-software companies, which Schmidt learneda t Sun and Novell: Blame laggard customers. And with that, Schmidt wraps up the call.