Updated from 5:23 p.m. EST
took a vicious thumping Tuesday after posting a mediocre fourth quarter and guiding first-quarter revenue lower.
The stock plunged 13% as investors fled tech following a
big miss at
, which fell 7%. Even
was drawn into the postclose bloodletting, shedding 3%.
For its fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo! made $683 million, or 46 cents a share, up from the year-ago $373 million, or 25 cents a share. On an adjusted basis, excluding certain items, earnings rose to $247 million, or 16 cents a share, from the year-ago $187 million, or 13 cents a share.
Revenue rose 39% from a year ago to $1.5 billion on a gross basis and gained 36% from a year ago on a so-called net basis, reflecting payments made to the company's search partners, to $1.07 billion. Marketing services revenue rose 39% from a year ago to a gross $1.32 billion, while fees revenue rose 38% on a gross basis to $186 million.
The figures were broadly in line with the Wall Street estimates culled from a Thomson Financial survey. Analysts had expected a 16-cent or 17-cent profit on net revenue of $1.07 billion. But the company was unusually mum in its press release on coming-year guidance, and Wall Street took note.
"There is nothing there that is a particular problem," says Martin Pyykonnen, an analyst with Hoefer & Arnett who rates the shares strong buy and doesn't own them. "It's about beating expectations and coming out ahead, and they didn't do that."
In a postclose conference call, Yahoo! execs finally unveiled the financial guidance investors had been hankering for, and as expected it wasn't pretty. The company guided to net revenue of $1.04 billion to $1.1 billion, which means Yahoo! is likely to miss the $1.09 billion Thomson First Call analyst consensus estimate.
Operating cash flow will be $410 million to $440 million in the first quater and $1.91 billion to $2.06 billion for the year, Yahoo! said. Free cash flow for the year will be $1.4 billion to $1.6 billion.
For the fourth quarter, free cash flow rose to $330 million from $251 million a year earlier, and Yahoo! generated an added $369 million from the issuance of common stock as a result of the exercise of employee stock options. But cash, cash equivalents and investments in marketable debt securities fell to $4 billion at Dec. 31 from $4.76 billion at Sept. 30 as the company spent $1.5 billion on acquisitions.
Earlier this month Yahoo!'s shares hit a 52-week high following the announcement of Yahoo! Go Mobile, a service that will allow users to conduct searches and access their email and photos as well as look at popular features such as news over cell phones. On Tuesday they rose 21 cents to $40.11 before plunging $5.15 to $34.98 in late action.
Investors expect Yahoo! to benefit from the soaring popularity of search, but not to the same extent as Google. Yahoo! also is being helped by the continuing shift of advertising dollars from traditional media, including newspapers and television, to online companies, because it lets companies efficiently track their spending.
Forrester Research estimates that U.S. search-engine marketing spending will hit $11.7 billion by 2010, a gain of 170% from 2004. Google, which gets more queries than the next four engines combined, had 39% of the search market in November. That's 5 percentage points more than it had during the same period a year earlier, according to comScore Media Metrix. Meanwhile, Yahoo!'s market share slipped 2.5 percentage points to 29.5%.