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Ask Jeeves loss smaller than expected

Ask Jeeves, Inc. (Nasdaq: ASKJ) said Wednesday net loss for its fourth quarter was $15.2 million, or 56 cents a share, beating the loss of 63 cents a share predicted by First Call's consensus. Net loss for the year, $2.21 a share, was much wider than First Call's expected loss of $1.73 a share.

Ask Jeeves is a leading provider of natural-language question answering services for consumers and companies. The stock has been sliding from its 52-week high of 190 1/2 since November, though it rose in December after Ask Jeeves inkeda few distribution deals

Revenue for the quarter was $10.9 million, up from third quarter revenue of $6.8 million and $562,000 for the fourth quarter of 1998. The net loss of 56 cents a share is on a pro forma basis, excluding amortization of deferred stock compensation, write-off of in-process technology and a one-time charge for related to the acquisition of Net Effect, which it bought in November. Including these charges, net loss for the fourth quarter of 1999 was $23.7 million or 87 cents a share as compared to a net loss of $3.7 million, or 30 cents a share for the fourth quarter of 1998.

Ask Jeeves also released year-end results. Revenue for the year ended December 31 was $22 million compared to revenue of $800,000 for 1998. Pro forma net loss for 1999 was $42.4 million, or $2.12 a share, excluding charges. Including charges, 1999 net loss was $52.9 million or $2.64 per share compared to 1998 net loss of $6.8 million, or 74 cents a share.

The breakdown of this past quarter's revenue shows consumer service revenue was $7.4 million and the corporate service revenue was $3.5 million compared to revenues of $4.2 million and $2.6 million respectively for the third quarter of 1999. The company's corporate service, which provides question answering services for company Web sites, continued to grow as the company targets vertical markets.

Quarterly highlights for the corporate services division included Ask Jeeves' expansion into the telecommunications market with new customers, the addition of a live help service with the acquisition of Net Effect Systems, account renewals in its corporate service with key customers such as Compaq (NYSE: CPQ) and WebTV Networks, and rocketing volume levels.

Statistics showed the company's consumer services business were also improving; revenue per thousand page views (RPMs) increased to $13.35, representing a 33 percent increase over the third quarter. Page views grew to 6.1 million and unique users statistics showed 455 percent increase since January 1999. The updated shopping service on Ask.com also contributed to consumer service revenues, the company said.

Ask Jeeves also announced partnerships with About.com, OnHealth Network Company and Worldres.com during the fourth quarter, and continues to expand its country specific versions of Ask.com.

Ask Jeeves announced a deal with Nike Tuesday, and has recently confirmed it is considering a plan to answer inquiries about sex and pornography. The company has registered "asksex.com" and "askadult.com" for the possible service.