Wall Street Roars Approval for Yahoo!

Google boosters probably aren't feeling quite so lucky today.

A day after Yahoo! ( YHOO) blew the doors off its first quarter, investors were loudly celebrating the Net media giant's triumph over its much-ballyhooed competition. And comments from Yahoo! executives only underscored the giddy feeling.

Late Wednesday, financial chief Sue Decker discounted the looming threat from closely held Google. In an interview with TheStreet.com, she emphasized the strength and breadth of Yahoo!'s offerings, qualities she said the company had honed over years of customer dealings.

Decker added that neither the money Google might reap from a widely expected IPO nor the customers it could win with a new email service would prove problematic for Yahoo!.

"Competition isn't new," said Decker. "We've had quite a few big competitors in our space for quite a while."

Decker's comments came as Yahoo! ran a victory lap celebrating the first-quarter financial results released after the market's close Wednesday. Revenue, operating cash flow and earnings trounced analysts' most optimistic forecasts, sending the already upwardly-mobile stock up even higher.

While analysts spent Thursday morning issuing notes with rewritten expectations for the company, shares in Yahoo! rose $7.55, or 15.6%, to trade at $55.90. At that price, the stock is about two-and-a-half times its year-ago 52-week low.

Vertical Leap

Yahoo!'s primary objective is to focus on user experience, says Decker. She says the company is having success integrating various assets, including different "verticals" -- subject areas and activities -- such as personals, careers, music and shopping. Yahoo! is able to personalize and integrate those features, she says, "in ways that our competitors who don't have all those things can't do."

On Friday, analysts were busy raising estimates and figuring out where things had gone so right for the company.

Merrill Lynch analyst Andrew Slabin, for one, attributed the surprisingly good performance to such factors as "robust Internet fundamentals," particularly in sponsored search and branded advertising; strong international performance, helped by the integration of search in several regions, and the expansion of Yahoo!'s user base.

Slabin raised estimates but kept his neutral rating on the stock, saying the upside surprise is already reflected in the higher stock price.

Credit Suisse First Boston's Heath Terry, meanwhile, raised his 12-month price target on Yahoo! from $57 to $65.

"While every revenue line outperformed, Marketing Servicesdrove the bulk of the upside," wrote Terry. "Excluding acquisitions, marketing services growth was 48% y/y. We believe this is the result of asignificant improvement in the traditional online advertising market, aswell as continued growth in sponsored search."

Terry has an outperform rating on the stock; his firm has done banking for Yahoo! in the past 12 months.

Rug Burn

As for Google's experimental free email service, Gmail, Decker suggested that Gmail's most attractive feature -- 1-gigabyte storage capacity -- wouldn't pull the rug out from under Yahoo!'s free email service, currently offered with 4 megabytes of storage space.

Storage, she said, is only one of several things that users are looking for in email. The others, she suggested, include security, trust, privacy, reliability and common registration with other services.

As an indication of how storage capacity is one element, she said that though premium email users can purchase extra storage capacity by itself, they often bundle it with other advanced services.

"At the moment, we feel like we have a pretty strong offering," Decker said, "and it's based on listening to consumers for a number of years."

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