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Yahoo! blows past Q2 estimates

International expansion, and longer and larger advertising contracts helped Yahoo! Inc. hurdle analysts' estimates in the second quarter.
Written by Larry Barrett, Contributor

In results released after market close Wednesday, the web portal operator reported a profit of $28.2m (£17.2m), or 11 cents a share, on sales of $115.2m. Its shares closed off 8 1/16 to 167 1/16 ahead of the earnings report.

First Call consensus expected Yahoo! to earn 8 cents a share in the quarter. As with many successful technology or Internet-related companies, Yahoo! has a history of guiding analyst forecasts to a point slightly below what the company actually ends up reporting. "We're please to report another quarter of outstanding financial results," Yahoo! CFO Gary Valenzuela said during a conference call with analysts. "Overall, you'll find it's a very Yahoo! like quarter"

The $115.2m in sales represents a 156 percent jump compared to the year-ago quarter when it made $1.4m, or 1 cent a share, on sales of $44.9m. Analyst consensus had predicted revenue of about $103 million for the second quarter

Yahoo!'s registered user base jumped to 65 million users in the quarter and its average daily page views surged to 310 million in June, compared to 235 million average daily views in March. The company saw 80 million unique users in June. Chief operating officer Jeff Mallett cited market research data showing Yahoo! reaching 60 percent of Web users in the United States in May, which puts the web portal in the top spot for Internet audience reach.

The second-quarter results were the first to include the recently-acquired GeoCites Inc. Page views for Geocities were roughly comparable to March, executives said. They declined to be more specific about that business' results, and said Yahoo! will not break out Geocities results in future quarterly reports.

Yahoo! shares moved up 1 11/16 in after-hours trading.

Including the costs of merging acquisitions, Yahoo! reported a net loss of $15m, or 7 cents a share compared to a net loss of $14.2m, or 8 cents a share, in the year-ago period. During the conference call, company executives stressed Yahoo!'s overseas growth. The network now gets one third of its users and just under 10 percent of its total revenue from outside the United States, CEO Tim Koogle said. "We are getting our unfair share of new users internationally," he said.

Yahoo! also touted its improved sales and marketing. The average advertiser contract now runs 166 days, compared to 145 days in the first quarter. Revenue per customer now averages $43,000, up from $40,000 three months earlier. Total advertisers rose to 2,700 from 2,125 in the first quarter.

Executives cautioned that the advertising industry traditionally pulls back slightly during the summer. "Advertising revenues do tend to be a bit weaker in the September quarter than in the June quarter, which could affect Web based advertising in Q3," Valenzuela said. Most analysts predicted Yahoo! would record sales of between $100m to $115m. Last quarter, it pocketed $25m, or 11 cents a share, on sales of $86m. First Call predicted it would earn 8 cents a share in that quarter. "We believe Yahoo! will have another strong quarter," said Henry Blodget, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, ahead of the earnings report. "Yahoo! usually beats consensus and we would not be surprised to see it do it again. We would caution against wild enthusiasm, however, especially with regard to page views."

Blodget was one of the few analysts to go out on a limb, predicting 305 million page views a day in June, a sequential increase of 30 percent. Of course, that includes about 40 million page views from its $3.56bn acquisition of GeoCities. While GeoCities did record 62 million page views last quarter, Yahoo! doesn't count mini-pages called "pop-ups" in its traffic count. Yahoo! had announced that it would take $68 million charge in the quarter and layoff 100 GeoCities employees.

The pending acquisition of Broadcast.com will close within two weeks, or a more than a month ahead of schedule, Valenzuela said. Yahoo! is not changing its guidance to analysts regarding that purchase, he said. "There's going to be some moderate dilution down the road, but I'm not sure if we'll see much of that this quarter," said David Levy, an analyst at ING Baring Furman Selz. "Still, Yahoo!'s in the driver's seat and has a market-leading position."

In a separate release Tuesday, Broadcast.com said it lost $1.9m, or 5 cents a share, on sales of $13.5m in its second quarter. The $13.5m in sales represents a 130 percent jump versus the year-ago period when it lost $3.5m, or 11 cents a share, on sales of $5.9m. By nabbing GeoCities and Broadcast.com, Yahoo! has improved its reach and its multimedia possibilities. "This is the biggest test for Yahoo! so far," said Dawn Simon, an analyst at Brown Brothers Harriman. "Not only in terms of integrating all these employees and technologies, but how they use these assets."

Yahoo! is working on a plan to create a personalised multimedia portal for Net users, that combines user-created content and communities from GeoCities with the audio and video streaming aggregation skills and technology of Broadcast.com. But that broadband portal effort is still in the works. Meanwhile, Snap.com two weeks ago became the first portal to launch a so-called "broadband'' portal for Net users with the kind of high-speed access needed.

While conventional wisdom suggest that Yahoo! can't continue much longer as an independent entity, the company hasn't give any signals that it's in the market for a telecommunications partner. Moreover, there hasn't even be the scent of such a rumour on Wall Street.

As for the stock, Yahoo! shares have mirrored the rest of the Internet sector. After peaking at $244 a share in April, the stock rapidly fell to $119 in mid-June. Twenty of the 26 analysts following the stock rate it either a "buy" or "strong buy."

"It's a good value right now and will be for the foreseeable future," Levy said. "I love the portal sector and Yahoo! is still is the undisputed leader."

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