At a time when Internet stocks are less popular on Wall Street than ants at a picnic, investors aren't expecting much from Barry Diller's IAC/InterActiveCorp ( IACI) when it reports second-quarter results Tuesday morning. The New York-based owner of
HSN, TicketMaster and LendingTree may be sensitive to any potential economic slowdown, Wall Street analysts say. Plus, IAC continues to invest in its businesses, including its Ask.com search engine. All of these worries have helped push IAC shares down 16% this year, compared with a 5% decline in the Nasdaq Composite Index. "We do not see near-term favorable catalysts," writes Michael Millman, an analyst with Soleil Securities, who rates IAC as a hold, in a note Monday to clients. "HSN has continuing execution problems, which don't seem to get fixed. LendingTree faces headwinds from rising interest/mortgage rates." IAC is expected to make 29 cents a share, up a penny from a year ago, while sales jumped 13% from a year ago to $1.59 billion, according to Thomson Financial. In a recent note to clients, CIBC analyst Paul Keung writes he is expecting an in-line quarter, with strengths coming in personals and ticketing. He expects Ask.com to improve its profitability off a "low base." IAC purchased Ask.com, formerly Ask Jeeves, for $1.6 billion last year, an acquisition that puzzled Wall Street, since the search pioneer has long been eclipsed in popularity by Google ( GOOG) and other rivals. The company dumped Jeeves butler as the engine's mascot earlier this year and has been trying to overhaul the brand through an advertising campaign featuring offbeat television commercials. "From my point of view, we are ahead of schedule with the rebranding effort," says Jim Lanzone, the head of Ask, in a recent interview. "The audience using Ask.com is using it more often. Word of mouth is spreading more than I imagined, thanks to well-known fans." IAC recognizes that it's not going to pose any threat to Google. The latest data from comScore Networks shows Ask.com ranked fourth in search, with 5% of the market, compared to Google's 45%. Ask has been able to either gain share or lose less of it than its rivals in comScore's monthly rankings. While being No. 1 in search would be nice, it's not a necessity for IAC's acquisition to be successful. Demand for search advertising continues to be strong even as the market matures. "You don't need to make much headway to make a difference in your results," says Darren Chervitz of Jacob Asset Management, which owns shares of IAC among its $70 million in assets in management. The fund also owns shares in TheStreet.com, publisher of this Web site. "It could be a very nice business if they have 1/20th of the business that Google has," he adds. Shares of IAC fell 50 cents to $23.71.