Yahoo Disappoints; Layoffs Loom

Yahoo's after-market reaction to the company's earnings news says it all: Yahoo down 8 percent and you gotta wonder just how bad this news is going to get before it gets any better. IF it gets any better. Stunning for a company that says today it enjoys 2 BILLION page views A MONTH in the U.S. alone.

Yahoo did share some good news: beating the Street by 4 cents a share, posting 15 cents instead of the 11 cents analysts projected. expected 14 cents -- so Yahoo even beat that. It posted those numbers on as-expected revenue of $1.4 billion.

And Yahoo confirmed on the conference call that it will take a $20 million to $25 million charge outside the company's given guidance today, to account for the 1,000 layoffs the company will implement by mid-February, well above the figure tossed around last week -- but way under what many analysts were looking for.

But the forecast boogeyman reared its ugly head once again, and once again, the Street is loathe to be proven wrong when it comes to guidance.

Yahoo is now offering a new revenue range for its first fiscal quarter of $1.28 billion to $1.38 billion, significantly lowering the mid-point of the range analysts had expected: $1.361 billion. And the news gets even worse for the full year 2008: $5.350 billion to $5.950 billion, lowering the mid-point significantly below the $5.9 billion consensus.

Jerry Yang, the company's co-founder who replaced Chief Executive Terry Semel last summer amid fever-pitch investor frustration with Yahoo's inability to come up with any way to compete with Google, copped to the "headwinds" Yahoo faces this year.

Yahoo shares are spiraling back toward the 4-year low they hit a week ago, and might break through it. Glancing through the earnings report, it seems clear that such a slide is warranted.

Yang says the strategy he spelled out in October, including the three key objectives -- becoming the starting point for consumers, becoming the must-buy for advertisers, and offering industry leading platforms that attract the industry's top developers -- is on track and going well, "seeing early signs of success."

It's his idea of "going well" that seems to differ markedly from what the Street's idea is.

Yang says the company will invest aggressively to "accelerate our overall ad growth as the company exits 2008." Again, we have heard time and again from the company that it's in the midst of a "multi-year transition." And now the company apparently won't see ad growth acceleration until the end of this year. That comes as a disappointment.

Yang on the conference call says Yahoo's transformation will include that workforce reduction, but rather than "across the board cuts," he sees targeted reductions alongside targeted investments by mid-February.

He says there is "much work ahead," but he's confident in the plan.

The biggest takeaway: short on detail, long on the kinds of broad brush-strokes we got from Yang's predecessor, may indicate a company in deeper trouble than anyone had anticipated.

You'd think with so much riding on this call, on these earnings, and the time Yang has already spent at the company as CEO -- and the time he spent there before -- that there'd be a more cogent group of items on the to-do list. A comprehensive set of must-do priorities that will get this company back on track as it tries to compete with Google, and loses ground to Microsoft.

Without those details today, or even leading up to today, the e-mails I'm getting are starting to worry there simply aren't any.

Questions? Comments?