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Ask Jeeves warns of wider loss; CEO resigns

Apparently Ask Jeeves doesn't have all the answers. After the bell Thursday the quirky Internet search engine warned it will post a wider-than-expected loss in its fourth quarter and announced that CEO Rob Wrubel was stepping down.

Ask Jeeves (Nasdaq: ASKJ) shares finished off 81 cents to $9.69 ahead of the bad news.

Company officials said it now expects to post a loss of $18 million, or 50 cents a share, in the quarter, much wider than the 33 cents analysts had previously expected.

Sales will come in around $25 million, also below analysts' estimates.

"The broad-based economic slowdown has caused weakness in the online advertising market, advertising pricing pressure and a decreased sense of urgency among Fortune 1000 companies to implement their online initiatives," said President Adam Klein in a prepared release.

Wrubel resigned from his firm's top post and will be replaced by board member George "Skip" Battle on an interim basis.

Wrubel will stay on as an executive vice president of market development.

Despite all this turmoil, Ask Jeeves said it still expects to be profitable by the fourth quarter of 2001.

Last quarter, Ask Jeeves posted a smaller-than-expected loss, dropping $12.6 million, or 36 cents a share, on sales of $29 million.

The stock rallied up to a 52-week high of $140 in January before plunging to a low of $8 in November.

Throughout this downward spiral, all nine analysts following the stock have maintained either a "buy" or "strong buy" recommendation.

First Call Corp. consensus expects Ask Jeeves to lose 60 cents a share in fiscal 2001.