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Google Delivers Strong Sales, Profits in Q4

Google earnings and China impact
Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) on Thursday gave its investors -- and the information technology industry as a whole -- a dose of good news when the tech bellwether easily hurdled analysts' estimates in its fourth quarter, returning an adjusted profit of $2.19 billion, or $6.79 a share, on sales of $6.67 billion.

A survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters pegged the Mountain View, Calif.-based company for a profit of $6.45 a share.

The $6.67 billion in sales marks a 17 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it earned $1.62 billion, or $5.10 a share, on sales of $5.7 billion.

Google shares moved up $2.57 to $582.98 ahead of the earnings report, before tumbling $27.40, or 5 percent, to $553.01 in after-hours trading.

"Google had a strong fourth quarter, with 17 percent year-over-year revenue growth," CEO Eric Schmidt said in a statement. "Given that the global economy is still in the early days of recovery, this was an extraordinary end to the year."

"As we enter 2010, we remain hugely optimistic about the Internet and are continuing to invest heavily in technological innovation for the benefit not only of our users and customers, but also the wider Web," he added.

Last quarter, Google came through with another better-than-expected quarter, posting a profit of $1.64 billion, or $5.13 a share, on sales of $5.94 billion.

China impact ahead?

Still, investors may be seeking some clues on Google's next steps as it comes to grips with doing business in China, the world's largest Internet market.

Earlier this month, Google threatened to pull out of China in response to a series of coordinated cyber attacks against it and more than two dozen other prominent U.S.-based companies.

Independent security research firms later concluded that the highly sophisticated attacks originated in China and were conducted on behalf of or by someone in the direct employ of official intelligence entities of the Chinese government .

Despite the huge profit potential, Google and other American search providers such as Yahoo and Microsoft have locked antlers with China regarding censorship and privacy issues online.

Regardless, Google's stock has been on a tremendous roll in the past year, surging from a 52-week low of $288.35 a share in March to a peak of $629.51 earlier this month.

Thirty-five of the 38 analysts tracking the stock maintain either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.

Larry Barrett is a senior editor at InternetNews.com, the news service of Internet.com, the network for technology professionals.