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Yahoo’s turnaround is a work in progress

San Francisco: Yahoo again posted anaemic quarterly revenue growth as the internet company’s advertising business continues to lag its rivals, nearly two years into CEO Marissa Mayer’s comeback effort.

Mayer told analysts that new mobile and advertising initiatives were gaining momentum, positioning the company for a period of stable but modest growth. Revenue from its core display advertising business inched 2 per cent higher in the first quarter, reversing several consecutive quarters of declines.

But the company forecast second-quarter revenue, excluding fees paid to partner websites, of $1.06 billion (Dh3.89 billion) to $1.1 billion. That suggests revenue could decline by as much as 1 per cent or rise by up to 2.7 per cent from $1.07 billion a year earlier, underscoring the challenges facing its business.

That did not faze Wall Street, which is focused primarily on Yahoo’s 24 per cent stake in Alibaba Group Holding Ltd, the Chinese e-commerce giant. Yahoo’s shares climbed 7 per cent on strong results from Alibaba.

“It’s really Alibaba driving things,” said Macquarie Research analyst Ben Schachter. Yahoo’s core business improved slightly in the first quarter, but “really the story here is Alibaba and the somewhat unexpected re-acceleration” of its revenue growth.

The Chinese company’s revenue increased 66 per cent to $3.06 billion in the fourth quarter, according to slides that Yahoo posted on its investor relations website, faster than the 51 per cent growth in Alibaba’s third quarter. Yahoo reports the Chinese company’s financial results one quarter later than its own.

Mayer is trying to revitalise Yahoo’s business. The former Google executive revamped many of Yahoo’s web products but its ad sales business continues to struggle while rivals such as Google, Facebook and Twitter continue to post strong, double-digit revenue growth.

Revenue from display ads, which accounts for roughly 40 per cent of Yahoo’s overall sales, increased just 2 per cent to $453 million, excluding partner fees. That meagre growth follows several consecutive quarters of decline in the display ad business.

Yahoo said it was making progress in developing new mobile technology, online video, social media and new ad formats. The company now counts 430 million monthly users of its mobile products, while the number of online video streams consumers watched increased 30 per cent from the fourth quarter.

Finance chief Ken Goldman said that so-called “stream ads” that appear in-between scrolling news headlines on Yahoo’s web pages now account for about a fifth of the number of display ads that the company serves. He noted that stream ads were priced lower, weighing on the company’s total average price per display ad, which declined 5 per cent.

Goldman did not provide any update on how Yahoo might use the proceeds from the Alibaba IPO, during which Yahoo is required to sell 40 per cent of its stake in the company.

Alibaba, valued at more than $140 billion, is expected to go public later this year in the US in the largest IPO since Facebook’s debut in 2012.

Yahoo’s revenue, excluding fees paid to partner websites, came to $1.087 billion in the first quarter, up from $1.074 billion in the year-ago period.

It had net income of $311.6 million, or 29 cents a share, in the first quarter. It earned 38 cents a share excluding certain items.