Still no cure for what ails Yahoo

Executives offer promises but no real plan to turn company around in the face of search titan Google.
Written by Elinor Mills, Contributor
At Yahoo, there is plenty of talk but no real plan.

As expected, Yahoo posted disappointing second-quarter financial results on Tuesday and lowered its guidance for the remainder of the year. The company cited continuing slowed growth in display advertising and bigger-than-expected declines in search affiliate sales.

As Google pulls further and further ahead in the ad market war, Yahoo executives keep promising big things. But so far, it appears, they're just promises, and vague ones at that.

"I'm a little frustrated by the direction of Yahoo," said Jordan Rohan of RBC Capital Markets. "Investor patience is wearing thin."

Yahoo executives do seem like they're feeling the heat, but they haven't adequately spelled out exactly what they plan to do to change course.

On a conference call with analysts after the earnings report, Chief Executive Jerry Yang said he would "spend the next 100 days or so mapping out a strategic plan" and conduct a "top to bottom review of our business."

"I have a great sense of urgency to move fast and in a focused way," Yang said.

He promised there would be "no sacred cows" and talked about three key topics: insight, openness and partnering. Specifically, the company will de-emphasize underperforming products and "set a new bar for the Yahoo culture" by "prioritizing teamwork, leadership and a desire to win."

President and former CFO Sue Decker added that the company needs to "accelerate the transformation of Yahoo." She was named president in the management change last month that swept co-founder Yang to the CEO spot and former CEO Terry Semel off to the sidelines as a nonexecutive chairman of the board.

Yahoo is a "sinking ship"
While that might sound like the company is serious about making changes, the move has some observers scratching their heads.

"There was a broad stroke strategy articulated but not a detailed plan," said Steve Weinstein of Pacific Crest Securities.

For the troubled company, it doesn't seem like there's an immediate fix to its problems. Even a surprise acquisition of a hit Internet property like Facebook won't fix what ails Yahoo.

No one is saying Yahoo is going to buy Facebook, which analysts say is gaining display ad dollars at Yahoo's expense. But even if it wanted to, Facebook has chosen Microsoft to serve ads on its popular social-networking site. And there is no indication that Yahoo shareholders could stomach another big acquisition, particularly with the $1 billion to $6 billion price tag pegged to the young company.

"It's been a sinking ship for a year and a half," Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster said of Yahoo. "Yahoo is slow to do anything, and now it seems they are acknowledging that and want to make changes more rapidly and cut the businesses that aren't performing. That's new."

So, how does Yahoo catch Google? The honest answer: it doesn't.

Google not only continues to increase its search market share (about 50 percent, double that of Yahoo's), it also is able to get a much larger percentage of the ad dollars spent on search marketing--75 percent compared with Yahoo's 18 percent, according to a recent study from SearchIgnite and RBC Capital Markets.

Google's U.S. ad revenue is expected to rise by 45 percent this year while Yahoo's will fall by 18 percent from a year ago, according to an eMarketer study.

The contrast will be stark when Google reports its second-quarter financial results on Thursday. Analysts expect Google's revenue growth to be higher than 60 percent, while Yahoo's was 11 percent.

"It's the 'haves' and the 'have nots,'" Munster said. "Google's results on Thursday are going to emphasize the reason why Yahoo has got to make a real change."

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