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AskJeeves Shrinks in Google's Long Shadow

Ask Jeeves (ASKJ) slipped 3% from Thursday's close after failing to report a Google (GOOG)-like quarter.

The search engine operator matched Wall Street's fourth-quarter consensus and issued 2005 guidance that generally matched expectations. It also laid out first-quarter targets that eerily duplicated the Thomson First Call consensus. But the company's failure to blow out estimates the way its big Mountain View, Calif., rival did Tuesday sent its shares down 94 cents to $26.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Ask Jeeves reported net income from continuing operations of $17.1 million, or 25 cents per share, up from 13 cents per share in the fourth quarter of 2003.

Excluding multiple items such as amortization of intangibles, stock-based compensation and restructuring costs, the company reported net income of 35 cents per share, up from 14 cents a year earlier and beating the First Call estimate by 3 cents.

Revenue -- 69% of which, in the first three quarters of 2004, was derived from ads sold by Google -- amounted to $86.1 million, short of the analyst consensus of $87 million and matching the company's Oct. 27 guidance. The company reported $31.8 million in revenue in the last quarter of 2003.

Looking ahead, Ask Jeeves forecast adjusted EPS of 34 cents for the first quarter of 2005 on revenue of $94 million, exactly matching the First Call numbers going into Thursday's release.

Full-year guidance is for revenue in the range of $380 million to $395 million, compared to the current $382 million expectation. Adjusted EPS for the year, says Ask Jeeves, will come in the range of $1.30 to $1.45 per share. Analysts have been forecasting 2005 EPS of $1.39.

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