Google vs Time Warner

It seems CNBC has fallen in love with a market value comparison between Google (GOOG) and Time Warner (TWX). Their anchors are asking every single person they can find how one can justify GOOG being valued at $86 billion while TWX sports an $80 billion market cap. The way they have been wording it makes it seem like any sane human being should think that statistic is completely insane. After all, TWX will have $44 billion in annual sales this year, whereas Google will book less than $4 billion in revenue.

Let’s break this comparison down to see how silly it is. Since when are stocks valued based on their sales? Healthcare services firm Express Scripts (ESRX) is worth $3.7 billion with expected sales in 2005 to hit $16 billion. Another healthcare company, Lincare Holdings (LNCR) is going to book $1.2 billion in revenue this year but it’s worth $4.3 billion. ESRX has 13 times as much revenue, but is worth 15% less in the market. Are these two companies being misvalued on Wall Street too?

The formula for a stock’s price is pretty simple:

Stock Price = (Earnings per Share) x (Price/Earnings Multiple)

Nowhere in this formula will you find anything about sales. Companies are valued on their earnings. That’s one half of the equation. The other half is the multiple. The multiples investors are willing to pay are determined by growth potential. More growth… higher P/E, and vice versa.

Now let’s take a look at Google and Time Warner again. Time Warner has billions in debt. Google doesn’t. Time Warner’s enterprise value of $93 billion is far greater than its market cap of $80 billion. Google, on the other hand, has a ton of cash giving it an enterpise value of $82 billion, or $11 billion less than TWX.

Now let’s look at earnings. It’s true that Google’s 2006 P/E is 46x whereas Time Warner’s is 19x. If we use enterprise value instead of market cap, we get 44x for GOOG versus 22x for TWX. How can we justify a P/E for Google twice that of Time Warner? Well, in 2006 Google is expected to grow its business by 41%. Time Warner’s growth? A paltry 5%.

The question investors are asking themselves is this. Would I rather pay 44x for 41% growth or 22x for 5% growth? The answer has been obvious, as Google shares have soared from $85 to $308 since August. Conversely, Time Warner stock has been dead money. Interestingly, I think TWX is a very attractive investment down here at $16 per share.