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Yahoo CFO Tells CNBC: Panama Launch Should Spark Growth

The chief financial officer of Yahoo told CNBC that the company expects its new advertising system, dubbed "Panama," to accelerate sales growth in the second quarter.

The Internet products and services company said Tuesday evening that the launch date of its long-awaiting search marketing platform will come earlier than expected, boosting shares in Wednesday's session.

"Our search opportunity really is tied to the introduction of Panama, and we spent an enormous amount of energy and investment getting ready for this launch over the last 18 months," said Chief Financial Officer Susan Decker, appearing on CNBC's "Morning Call. "We're right on the cusp of benefits for that; we feel good about our position."

The revamped system will make its debut on Feb. 5, the company said. The launch date is about a month earlier than most analysts had predicted.

For investors, news of the imminent start date trumped a shortfall in Yahoo's fiscal 2007 sales forecast, pegged at a range of $4.95 to $5.45 billion, compared with the Thomson Financial consensus estimate of $5.47 billion.

Yahoo also announced fourth-quarter earnings of 16 cents a share, above the analysts' consensus estimate of 13 cents.

Many Wall Street analysts remain bullish on the stock, with big expectations for the potential growth of the advertising system.

"We continue to believe that investors should own Yahoo through the growth acceleration stages of the Panama launch," Credit Suisse analyst Heath Terry said in a report sent to clients Wednesday.

Mark Rowen, an analyst with Prudential Equity Group, said Panama launch delays had been burdening the stock.

"It appears that prosperity may really be just around the corner," Rowen wrote in a research report. "Yahoo may experience a stronger-than-expected acceleration in revenue growth and profitability once the new ad platform is successfully implemented."

However, Jeetil Patel of Deutsche Bank Securities said how big of an impact the launch will have on the stock remains to be seen.

"With its Feb. 5 launch date for the platform announced, we think investors have gained some incremental confidence from an execution standpoint," Patel said. "However, its 8% to 20% topline guidance was below consensus expectations of 20% top line year-over-year growth."

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