Yahoo! does it again...

Another strong stream of advertising helped Yahoo! Inc.
Written by Larry Barrett, Contributor

Another strong stream of advertising helped Yahoo! Inc. rise above analysts' estimates, again. After market close Wednesday, Yahoo reported first quarter results that included a profit of $25m (£15.25m), or 11 cents a share, on sales of $86m. First Call consensus expected Yahoo to earn 8 cents a share in the quarter, though most "whisper" numbers circulating Wall Street were closer to 10 cents or 11 cents a share.

Yahoo shares closed off 6 7/16 to 208 7/16 ahead of the earnings announcement. The stock quickly shot up to 212 in after-market trading.

The $86m in sales was almost a three-fold improvement versus the year-ago quarter when it made $3.2m, or 2 cents a share, on sales of $30.5m. Compared to the fourth quarter, Yahoo improved its sales by 13 percent and practically matched it in terms of net income and earnings per share.

Most of the revenue came from ads. Yahoo's Premier Merchant program generated 30 percent of total revenue, but much of that comes from advertising-related moves such as high profile placements on the Yahoo site. Although the website does get a cut of each sale made by its merchants, those transaction fees aren't large enough to break out as a separate revenue stream, Yahoo executives said.

Yahoo! grew its registered user base to 47 million unique users in the quarter, up from 35 million in the fourth quarter. Its average page views per day shot up to 235 million in March from 167 million in December. Yahoo continues to spread its brand, with 1.2 million distribution points across the Web, said Jeff Mallett, president and chief operating officer. "We were able we think to get a good group of first-timers who jumped onto the Web after Christmas," Mallett said during an afternoon conference call with analysts.

The company has also seen a increased number of users from Europe and Asia, executives said. "We've continued to see very good growth among our international properties," CEO Tim Koogle said. That's to say nothing about two major acquisitions in the quarter including a $5.7bn purchase of multimedia streaming firm Broadcast.com Inc. It also acquired GeoCities Inc., adding more of a community-centric look to its ever-expanding business model. The GeoCities purchase will close in late May or early June, Koogle said.

"As we get closer and closer to the actual closing, we'll get clear on our integration plans and roll that out to you," he said. "Geocities and Broadcast.com are different cases, to tell you the truth. Broadcast.com will be operated as a standalone division. ... Geocities is going to be a lot more integrated inside Yahoo's operations." According to Media Metrix, Yahoo! ranked No. 1 in reach with 53.4 percent of all users dialling up from work and No. 2 with 44.1 percent for home users.

Some of that is coming at the expense of other portals, Mallett said. "It looks like we are grabbing a few points from the other guys," he said. "The mid-tier and bottom-tier companies are going to be challenged to earn the right to serve major clients going forward. ... The Yahoos of the world are only going to look better."

Ahead of the earnings report, most Internet analysts were decidedly bullish on Yahoo!'s first quarter results. "We have confidence that Yahoo will continue to beat our revenue and earnings expectations," said Keith Benjamin, an Internet analyst at BancBoston Robertson Stephens. "With a reach of more than 50 million global users, Yahoo! has achieved that status of being a global branded network."

Most analysts are expecting sales of between $360m to $390m in the fiscal year.

At this time last year, Yahoo shares were trading at 22 11/16. In between, the stock has split 2-for-1 twice and peaked at 222 ½ in January.

Nineteen of the 24 analysts following the stock rate it either a "buy" or "strong buy." First Call consensus expects Yahoo! to grow its earnings by more than 61 percent in the next five years.

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