Chrome Is Google's Hidden Billion Dollar Business: Munster

Google Chrome could be worth as much as $1.5 billion for Google, or $2 billion alone, according to Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster.

Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Chrome, the Web browser at the center of a paid link controversy this week, could be the company's next billion-dollar business, according to a prominent Internet analyst.

Launched in September 2008, Chrome now has more than 200 million users worldwide, according to Google. StatCounter claimed the browser now commands 25.7 percent of the browser market, moving past Mozilla Firefox to claim the No. 2 spot and inching closer to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) Internet Explorer's 40.6 percent plot.

Citing Google's fresh, $900 million pact with Mozilla to keep its position as search provider for Firefox over the next three years, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster called Chrome "a meaningful, underappreciated asset of Google."

Google is paying Mozilla $300 million a year over the next three year to feature its search engine in Firefox, a rival browser Google is challenging with Chrome. Media and pundits questioned this move, spurring engineers for both Chrome and Firefox to defend the play as good business for both companies.

Munster, who also feels Chrome is exerting enough pressure on Mozilla and Microsoft to make their browsers better for the Web, used the financials of this Google-Mozilla arrangement to make his case for Chrome's valuation.

"If you assume that Chrome could generate $300 million in annual revenue through its essentially identical market share (and growing) with a 5x revenue multiple, Chrome would be worth $1.5 billion," Munster wrote in a research note Jan. 4.

"Since Chrome is likely growing faster given that it is taking market share and Firefox is losing, we believe Chrome could be attributed a higher annual revenue assumption than Firefox and would likely be worth more than $2 billion as a standalone entity."

And now for some cold water for Chrome's fire. First, while Google is hawking Chrome all over the Web and on television, the company demoted its own Chrome Web page after an ad campaign promoting the browser violated the search engine's paid link policies.

Second, StatCounter's browser share counting appears liberal compared to Net Applications, which said Chrome closed 2011 at 19.1 percent, with Firefox at 21.8 percent.

While Chrome appears within striking distance of Firefox, the research claims IE is still above 50 percent, making Chrome's upward climb versus the top browser a steeper proposition.

Moreover, as Munster correctly noted, Mozilla and Microsoft have redoubled and accelerated their efforts, latching on to the burgeoning HTML5 standard to fortify their browsers.