Is Yahoo still relevant? Search portal expects another weak first quarter

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Search provider Yahoo’s revenue slipped slightly, with revenue from search results falling 27 percent, its U.S. operations continuing to falter and minor growth in Asia keeping the company from posting significant losses.

Yahoo’s net revenue was down 12 percent from $1.7 billion to $1.53 billion in the fourth quarter last year when compared to 2009. Income was up 85 percent to $220 million, up from $119 million in the fourth quarter of 2009. But that’s largely because Yahoo has ruthlessly cut costs under CEO Carol Bartz’s reign — its total expenses were down 13 percent to $747 million from $863 million in the same quarter a year earlier. That also included research and development for products.

The troubles continue to mount for Bartz, who has seen everything from a semi-exodus of Yahoo executives to a public relations snafu regarding online services of epic proportions during her tenure as chief executive of the search provider. Bartz took control of the company toward the beginning of 2009 in order to turn it around as Google rapidly became the dominant search provider, but she has failed to move the needle on the company’s share values since then. After a brief run-up in early 2009, Yahoo’s shares have largely built a nest at around the $15.50 mark. Despite the company’s best efforts to remake itself and stay relevant, Bartz’s Yahoo has largely been the same as it is today — in line with expectations.

The largest dip came from advertising on search results, where revenue fell from $863 million in the fourth quarter of 2009 to $639 million in 2010. Yahoo’s display advertising revenues, however, rose 14 percent from $559 million to $635 million. Yahoo’s search engine is powered by Microsoft’s Bing engine, and Yahoo has a revenue sharing arrangement with the company. It paid Microsoft $66 million in the fourth quarter last year and is expected to pay $36 million in the first quarter this year for the arrangement.

While its revenues in the U.S. continued to sag, Yahoo saw a decent amount of growth in Asia. It’s revenue (minus traffic acquisition costs) was up 15 percent to $211 million from $184 million in the fourth quarter year-over-year. That’s compared to a 7.9 percent decline in revenue from U.S. operations, down from $965 million to $889 million year-over-year in the fourth quarter.

Excluding traffic acquisition costs, Yahoo’s revenue was only down 4 percent to $1.2 billion — which just about hit the consensus estimates from Wall Street analysts of $1.19 billion. Wall Street analysts were expecting $1.5 billion in net revenue before traffic acquisition costs and $239 million in income. Yahoo is projecting revenue between $1.02 and $1.08 billion in the first quarter this year, well below Wall Street estimates of $1.13 billion.

Meanwhile, Google and Facebook are dominating the search space where Yahoo was once a major player. And to add a little bit of insult to injury, Yahoo earlier announced it is reducing its workforce by 1 percent today — between 100 and 150 members of its staff.

Even though the company’s results largely met the expectations of Wall Street analysts, its shares were still down around 3.5 percent to $15.45 in extended trading.

[Photo: Yodel Anecdotal]


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