Yahoo beats Wall Street estimates but display ads decline

Even with some glossy new properties, the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based tech giant sees a 6 percent decline in display revenue compared with the same quarter last year.

Richard Nieva Former senior reporter
Richard Nieva was a senior reporter for CNET News, focusing on Google and Yahoo. He previously worked for PandoDaily and Fortune Magazine, and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, on CNNMoney.com and on CJR.org.
Richard Nieva
3 min read

For Yahoo, the message was clear: this year is about growth.

On a video conference call with investors after reporting fourth-quarter earnings, Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer talked about the moves ahead. "2014 is about doing bigger things in key areas of growth," she said. The statement could be seen as a manifesto for the year ahead or as a way to spin the year past -- one full of acquisitions, starts, and stumbles.

Yahoo on Tuesday reported revenue of $1.27 billion and non-GAAP earnings of 46 cents per share for the last three months of 2013. That beat Wall Street's expectations of $1.2 billion in revenue and a non-GAAP estimate of 38 cents per share. Still, display advertising, a crucial spot for the company, declined 6 percent compared with the same quarter last year.

Mayer spoke of a chain reaction, multi-year plan: people, products, traffic, and revenue. She said the company has laid the groundwork with the first three terms, which will then lead to revenue. Finance chief Ken Goldman echoed the sentiment saying that revenue growth is the number one goal going forward.

The lumbering technology giant continues its attempted turnaround. Its stock has largely been goosed by Yahoo's 24 percent stake in Chinese e-commerce company Alibaba, which is on its way to a highly anticipated initial public offering.

Mayer has at least made the company relevant again. Yahoo has an increasingly big media bent, bringing on high-profile names like Katie Couric and David Pogue. She's also put the company on a steady diet of acquisitions, and focused the operation on mobile apps. The company has released weather and news apps that have been well received for their mobile design. Of course, the money spent on Yahoo's well-documented acquisition spree adds up, and the company reported cash balance of $5 billion, down from $6 billion a year ago.

The CEO also provided some clarity around that string of acquisitions -- some 30 firms in all -- which has at time been confounding to those keeping track because of how disparate the companies are. (One Silicon Valley executive once told me that he thought Yahoo bought companies "like a drunken sailor.") Mayer described the types of buys as: 1) companies like Aviate, which will add to the company's technological war chest; 2) companies whose teams can be tucked into other areas like mobile development; and 3) companies like Tumblr, which serve as "fundamental building blocks" for Yahoo. For example, Yahoo's new tech and cooking sites are run on Tumblr's CMS.

But even with some glossy new properties, what hasn't yet translated is ad monetization. In 2013, Yahoo lost its spot as the No. 2 digital ad seller in the United States behind Google, when Facebook took its position for the first time, according to the research firm eMarketer. Also according to the firm, Yahoo had a share of about $1.27 billion, or 7.2 percent, of total US display ad revenues in 2013. On Tuesday, Yahoo reported GAAP display revenues of $553 million, a 6 percent decline from the same quarter last year.

At the Consumer Electronic Show earlier this month, Mayer introduced a new advertising exchange to consolidate its ad offerings, though we obviously won't yet be able to see if the change bears fruit until it has been on the market for a longer time.

During the conference call, one analyst also asked about dismissal of COO Henrique de Castro, who was given the ax earlier this month. Mayer was terse in her response: "Ultimately, Henrique was not a fit," she said. Prodded further by another analyst, she declined to comment. Mayer did mention, though, that de Castro's role will not be replaced, and that with the new restructuring, she would be more involved in the company's ailing advertising business.