There is a small buzz going on in the blogosphere regarding a job posting Google recently made for a trader of foreign government bonds.
FT Alphaville says this is an evolution of the corporate treasury function, since banks typically handle such trades. A source told the Business Insider that this was a means for Google to make use of its large cash reserves. Business Insider also made an off-hand comment that "Google has long discussed using its access to massive amounts of data to build a hedge fund."
One thing that's unclear is whether Google is still restricted in the kinds of investments it can make. Back in 2006, the company applied for an exemption to the Investment Company Act of 1940, which gives the Securities and Exchange Commission regulatory power over any company engaged in investing in or trading securities or has over 40 percent of its total non-cash assets in investment securities. Companies including Microsoft and Yahoo have exemptions to the law.
Since 60 percent of Google's assets are sitting in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities, the company looks a lot like a mutual fund. And, at least until now, it has severely limited the types of investments it makes so as to avoid additional SEC regulation. In 2006, its portfolio included US government notes, agency notes, time deposits, municipal securities and money market mutual funds. (However, it's worth noting that even with this conservative investment approach, Google got tied up in the auction-rate securities fiasco and is still holding $182 million worth of such instruments.)
Google's press department did not respond to an email asking if it ever received an exemption.
Looking at the breakdown of Google's investments in its 2006 and 2009 10-Ks, the only real difference is that it now invests in foreign government debt, which just happens to be the securities it is seeking a trader for. In fact, last year was the first time Google invested in foreign government debt.
But considering that Google's foreign debt portfolio as of Dec. 31 was just $36 million of its almost $25 billion in cash, cash equivalents and marketable securities, the company may be looking to experiment just a little after years of having its hands tied.