SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — As far as unpleasant surprises go, Google hit Wall Street with a double whammy Thursday.
The Internet search leader that prides itself on organizing the world's information lost control of its own data when a contractor released its third-quarter earnings report more than three hours before the numbers were supposed to come out.
As if that wasn't jarring enough, the results alarmed investors because the company's earnings and revenue fell well below analyst projections. The disappointment triggered an 8 percent drop in Google's stock price that erased about $20 billion in shareholder wealth.
The stock lost $60.49 to close at $695.
"This is a monumental failure of epic proportions," said Michael Robinson, an executive vice president for the Levick Strategic Communications, which specializes in financial crisis management. "This was bad news compounded by bad process. It came out in the worst way possible."
Google Inc. blamed printer R.R. Donnelley & Sons Co. for filing the company's quarterly statement with the Securities and Exchange Commission more than three hours ahead of schedule.
"We are fully engaged in an investigation to determine how this event took place and are pursuing our first obligation, which is to serve our valued customer," R.R. Donnelley said in a statement.
The embarrassing mix-up prompted Google CEO Larry Page to preface his review of the quarter with an apology during a conference call with analysts.
"I am sorry for the scramble earlier today," Page said, still sounding hoarse from a mysterious throat ailment. The problem left Page unable to speak during the summer, causing him to skip Google's second-quarter earnings call three months ago.
Page went on to paint a bright picture, not only of the most recent quarter, but for the next few years. "Every day, I wake up and I am delighted about our opportunities to keep growing," he said.
The pep talk didn't immediately resonate with investors.
Google's stock initially plunged more than 9 percent after the early release of the results. Trading was then suspended to allow more time for the information to be digested. After a nearly three-hour break, investors decided the results weren't quite as bad as they initially appeared, and the shares recovered slightly.
The sell-off reflects a reversal of the optimistic sentiment that had propelled Google's stock to an all-time high earlier this month. The stock had surged 27 percent in the three months before Thursday's unsettling developments.
Google earned $2.18 billion, or $6.53 per share, during the three months ending in September. That compared with net income of $2.73 billion, or $8.33 per share, last year.
The earnings would have been $9.03 per share, if not for Google's accounting costs for employee stock compensation and the Motorola charges. Analysts polled by FactSet were expecting $10.63 per share, on average.
Revenue climbed 45 percent from last year to $14.1 billion. Excluding compensation for websites that generate traffic for Google's ads, revenue was $11.33 billion. Analysts were expecting $11.86 billion
Most of the trouble appeared to be concentrated in Motorola Mobility, a troubled cellphone maker that Google bought for $12.4 billion in May. Analysts have been fretting that Motorola Mobility would turn into a financial albatross, and some of those fears appeared to be realized in the latest quarter spanning from July through September.
The device maker suffered an operating loss of $527 million, more than tripling from the same time last year when it was still an independent company.