Buy Yahoo! Ahead of Earnings

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- We've heard the term "So much to do, so little time." But this would seem the opposite of all of the things that Yahoo! ( YHOO) has been able to accomplish in a span of just 12 months.

I'm not going to pretend that Yahoo!! has "arrived" to where CEO Marissa Mayer envisioned the company would be. After all, there are still real threats from Google ( GOOG) and Facebook ( FB) that the company is working to mitigate. What is clear, though, is that Yahoo! is no longer the pushover that it once was. Here too, Mayer has had a huge in changing the company's image. And with a few more improvements in some key areas, these shares still look undervalued on a long-term basis.

Yahoo! continues to be one of the most misunderstood companies on Wall Street. Investors still want to remember the company as a search pioneer. Heck, even Yahoo! has been searching for its own identity. But the "search" is over -- at least in the philosophical sense. And Marissa Mayer is a good reason for this as well. Mayer has brought a winning attitude that Yahoo! has not seen for more than a decade.

Since her arrival almost a year ago, Mayer has been working to transform Yahoo! from just a media site to a true technology company. Whether through internal operations or acquisitions like Summly and Tumblr, Yahoo! is quickly building its capabilities by leveraging its assets to offer high-quality services to the consumer markets and mobile devices.

While Yahoo! still has a dominant media presence in finance and sports, Mayer is also building Yahoo!'s position in social and apps. How well these acquisitions will work remains to be seen. However, the company is also acquiring a considerable amount of engineering talent in the process -- the type of talent that will help Yahoo! to capitalize on future market opportunities -- the type of opportunities that it missed and allowed Facebook and Twitter to seize.

Some will disagree. But Yahoo! does not fear either Facebook or Twitter, or any other competing platform. Given the fact that Yahoo! still brings hundreds of millions of unique visitors every month to its email, sports and business franchises, it would be foolish to bet against Yahoo!'s ability to monetize this type of traffic going forward. Let's not discount that Yahoo! faces strong competition in these areas from the likes of Disney ( DIS), which owns the rights to ESPN.com.

So despite the strong presence of ESPN, CNN and the like, that Yahoo! still attracts such a following is impressive. Similarly, when you consider how strong of a presence CNBC has, Yahoo!! Finance has more than held its own against a powerhouse like Comcast ( CMCSA). Now, Mayer wants to grow the social/consumer aspects of its business, which I think it a smart strategic move.

I won't disagree that Google and Facebook have meaningful leads in this area. In fact, I would even throw Twitter in that category as well. Even so, I believe that with the addition of properties like Tumblr and the announced $40 million deal for Xobni, it's no longer farfetched to suggest that Yahoo! can recapture the market share loss it suffered at the hands of Google over the past 10 years.

My optimism comes while also appreciating that Yahoo! does not have a great track record extracting value from its acquisitions. AltaVista and GeoCities are a couple of past examples. I also understand that Marissa Mayer was not a part of that history, either. For that matter, I don't believe it's an accident that the stock has almost doubled since Mayer took over as CEO.

Investors want to know if this level of performance is sustainable, especially when considering that Yahoo!'s recent earnings results weren't exceptional. Sales were down and the uptick in profits was marginal. But I don't believe that's how "Mayer's Yahoo!" should be assessed. She's trying to resolve legacy issues, which includes cutting costs, while also changing the company's focus and culture. These are not easy to do.

To that end, it doesn't work to judge Yahoo! on metrics that may or may not presently matter. It's best to take full assessment of the company's new direction as a "true" technology company and not one that is solely focused on media -- as its recent history would suggest. Accordingly, I still see 20% of unrealized value in this stock on the basis of improved free-cash-flow growth and revenue growth.

(Shares of Yahoo! were trading at $27.22 Monday morning.)

At the time of publication, the author held no position in any of the stocks mentioned.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.
Richard Saintvilus is a private investor with an information technology and engineering background and the founder and producer of the investor Web site Saint's Sense. He has been investing and trading for over 15 years. He employs conservative strategies in assessing equities and appraising value while minimizing downside risk. His decisions are based in part on management, growth prospects, return on equity and price-to-earnings as well as macroeconomic factors. He is an investor who seeks opportunities whether on the long or short side and believes in changing positions as information changes.

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