SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Google Inc.’s third-quarter profit nearly doubled in the latest demonstration of the Internet search leader’s phenomenal financial firepower.

The results, released late Thursday, lifted Google shares by more than 7 percent – an upturn that translates into about $10 billion in additional stockholder wealth. The performance surpassed analyst estimates by a whopping 20 cents per share and underscored the Mountain View-based company’s widening advantage over its main Internet rivals.

Yahoo Inc., which runs the Internet’s second-largest advertising network behind Google, has been hurt by slowing revenue growth most of this year – a problem that contributed to a 38 percent drop in its third-quarter profit.

“The difference between Google and the second- and third-place players has become enormous,” Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry said. “This definitely shows that Google is going to own the next generation of the computing environment.”

No matter the industry, few companies have ever matched Google’s remarkable run of growth in the eight years since co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin launched their quirky business.

Most companies find it increasingly difficult to sustain their growth pace as they grow larger, but Google so far has been able to defy conventional thinking.

“Business is very, very good here at Google,” Eric Schmidt, the company’s understated chief executive, said in a conferenece call Thursday.

The third quarter, for instance, is supposed to be the most sluggish season for Internet companies because the summer tends to lure more people away from their computers. That tendency means Google should have fewer opportunities for its search engines to display the short text-based ads that account for most of its profits.

Google instead fared even better in the summer than in the winter, both in total profit and growth rates.

The company earned $733.4 million, or $2.36 per share, for the three months ended in September. That represented a 92 percent increase from net income of $381.2 million, or $1.32 per share, at the same time last year.

Back in the first quarter, Google’s profit rose by a more pedestrian 60 percent from last year.

If not for expenses to cover employee stock compensation, Google said it would have earned $2.62 per share in the third quarter – well above the average estimate of $2.42 per share among analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

Revenue for the period totaled $2.69 billion, a 70 percent increase from $1.58 billion last year.

After subtracting the commissions paid to Google’s ad partners, revenue fell to $1.86 billion. That figure also topped analyst estimates by about $50 million.

Surpassing Wall Street’s lofty expectations is nothing new for Google, which now has blown past analysts’ projections in all but one of the nine quarters since its much-ballyhooed initial public offering of stock in August 2004.

It’s a routine that delights. Google shares gained $6.75 to close Thursday at $426.06 on the Nasdaq Stock Market, then climbed by $31.44, or 7.4 percent, in after-hours trading.

Google’s success so far has hinged on its search engine, a piece of revolutionary technology continues to attract new users.

In September, Google’s held a 45 percent share of the U.S. search market, up from 44 percent in August, according to comScore Media Metrix. Yahoo’s search share dipped to 28 percent in September, down from 29 percent the previous month while Microsoft Corp.’s share continued to hover around 12 percent, Media Metrix said.

That wide lead apparently hasn’t made the company lackadaisical. Brin told analysts that Google recently introduced several improvements that increased the breadth and freshness of the search engine’s index.

Meanwhile, Google continues to find new ways to pick out the ads most likely to pique enough interest to be clicked on, as Google makes money based on the number of clicks, Brin said.

“There are always new ways to monetize,” Brin said. “I don’t see an obvious ceiling.”

Toward that end, Google already is eyeing new opportunities for online video ads with its planned acquisition of YouTube Inc., which has become one of the Internet’s hottest entertainment hub. Google hopes to complete the $1.65 billion deal in the next month or so.

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