Google's fourth-quarter profit fell below analyst expectations, signaling the crumbling U.S. economy has dented the Internet search leader's...

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MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif. — Google’s fourth-quarter profit fell below analyst expectations, signaling the crumbling U.S. economy has dented the Internet search leader’s moneymaking machine.

The Silicon Valley giant said today that it earned $1.21 billion, or $3.79 a share, during the final three months of 2007.

That’s up 17 percent from net income of $1.03 billion, or $3.29 a share, in the same period a year earlier.

If not for stock awards given to its employees, Google said it would have made $4.43 a share — a penny below the average estimate among analysts polled by Thomson Financial.

Revenue totaled $4.83 billion, a 51 percent improvement over $3.21 billion in the previous year.

In a more important measure to investors, Google retained $3.39 billion in revenue after paying commissions to its thousands of advertising partners across the Web.

The net revenue missed analyst estimates by about $60 million, or just under 2 percent.

The disappointment will likely amplify concerns that Google won’t be able to sell as much online advertising — the main source of its profit — as consumers clamp down on their spending amid ominous signs of a recession in the United States.

Those worries already have contributed to a nearly 20 percent decline in Google’s stock price this month.

Google shares rose $16.03 to finish at $564.30 in today’s regular trading session then plunged $41.60, or 7.4 percent, in extended trading after the fourth-quarter results came out.