Yahoo 2Q profit erodes but not as badly as feared

July 22, 2008 5:17:25 PM PDT
Yahoo Inc.'s profit slipped again in the second quarter, a recurring theme that has frustrated shareholders and raised doubts about the Internet company's future.

While the results released Tuesday missed analyst expectations, the performance wasn't as bad as many investors feared after Internet search and advertising leader Google Inc. disappointed Wall Street with its second-quarter earnings last week.

What's more, Yahoo management maintained its revenue outlook for the remainder of 2008. The confident stance eased concerns about Yahoo's financial erosion worsening amid the dreary economy in the United States and parts of Europe.

Yahoo shares rebounded 52 cents in extended trading after falling 27 cents to finish Tuesday's regular session at $21.40.

"They did better than the worst expectations," said Canaccord Adams analyst Colin Gillis. "It was a 'rice-cracker' quarter. It didn't taste great, but it wasn't totally horrible either."

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company earned $131 million, or 9 cents per share, from April through June. That was down 18 percent from $161 million, or 11 cents per share, at the same time last year.

Analysts had projected earnings of 11 cents per share in the most recent quarter, according to Thomson Financial.

A big chunk of the earnings shortfall stemmed from the bills that piled up as Yahoo dealt with an unsolicited takeover bid from Microsoft Corp. and a now-resolved battle for control of its board with activist investor Carl Icahn.

The drama cost Yahoo $22 million in the second quarter, mainly for outside advisers and related legal defense costs. Coupled with its first-quarter expenses, Yahoo has now spent $36 million on its wrestling match with Microsoft and Icahn.

Revenue for the quarter totaled $1.8 billion, a 6 percent improvement from $1.7 billion at the same time last year.

After subtracting commissions paid to Yahoo's advertising partners, revenue stood at $1.35 billion - about $20 million below the average analyst estimate.

Yahoo's latest lackluster performance of the past 2 1/2 years is likely to intensify the already tremendous pressure on management to lift the company's long-slumping stock price after rebuffing Microsoft's $47.5 billion takeover offer.

With that bid off the table, Yahoo's market value is about $18 billion below Microsoft's last offer. Dismayed shareholders will get their chance to vent at Yahoo's annual meeting Aug. 1.

Chief Executive Jerry Yang is hoping Yahoo shareholders will view the latest quarter as step in the right direction.

"This company is doing just fine in a tough economy and a tough environment," Yang told The Associated Press in a Tuesday interview. "We think there are a lot of good things to come still."

Yang on Monday gained a little more time to deliver on his turnaround promises by negotiating a truce with Icahn, who had been threatening to overthrow the company's entire board so he could try to revive talks with Microsoft. Now Icahn and two of his allies will join an expanded board consisting of 11 directors.

Although he had been trading public insults with Icahn before the cease-fire, Yang said he thinks the billionaire will be a valuable addition to the board.

Icahn "is a very smart guy on how to create value and that is a positive," Yang said.

Yang believes he can dramatically accelerate Yahoo's revenue growth during the next two years by extending the reach of its own online marketing network and drawing upon Google's superior technology to sell some ads on Yahoo's Web site.

If the proposed partnership isn't blocked by antitrust regulators, Yahoo hopes to start displaying some Google-generated ads in September. Management estimates the Google deal will boost Yahoo's annual revenue by $800 million.

But if Yahoo's profits continue to crumble, it could become vulnerable to another unsolicited takeover bid - this time at a price below Microsoft's last offer of $33 per share.

Weakening profits could also imperil Yang's status as CEO, a job he took 13 months ago with Yahoo already mired in its financial funk.

"I am as excited as I have ever been to lead this company," Yang said. "We have a sense of urgency to create value. Our stockholders and board will hold us to that."