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Google: A bellwether or giant losing its grip?

Surprising advertising numbers from ComScore show Google can suffer from a bad economy like everyone else. Wall Street is horrified.

We interrupt this scheduled lashing of Yahoo to ask a question about the company that's been putting a whuppin' on Jerry Yang & Co. over the last few years: Are you OK?

Google shares dropped 4.57 percent Tuesday largely on new ComScore numbers that show flat year-over-year growth in U.S. paid-click performance in January. It's an abrupt turn from the 25 percent year-over-year growth Google produced in the fourth quarter and the consistent growth Google has shown since, well, since there's been a Google. Regardless of what you think of ComScore's oft-controversial methods, this isn't good. As Henry Blodget aptly put it in Silicon Alley Insider, "Even if ComScore is only half right, this is a disaster."

Google declined to comment on the report.

Today's nearly 5 percent drop brings the search king's share price down from its 52-week high of $747.24 in November all the way to $464.19 at the end of trading Tuesday.That's just one more tidbit of bad news from Google's 52-week low, $437 per share, back in March 2007.

Google, it would seem, can't defy gravity or a bad economy more than any other company. For some, the ComScore numbers offer a fine opportunity to gloat. Others, and bless the optimists, aren't terribly worried just yet. But for most companies relying on advertising for their revenues (and who doesn't these days?), Google's bad news provides plenty of reason to fret.

Sure, it could be that Google's dominance of the ad market is waning. That would certainly be the glass-is-half-full scenario. But the more likely scenario is that Google is a bellwether for the rest of the online ad market, that everyone will struggle as the economy heads south, and that we're on the cusp of plenty more bad news.

But then I covered the first dot-com bust. I always think the glass is half empty.