Google may not formally be on the agenda at Yahoo!'s (YHOO) analyst day Thursday. But it will be lurking in the background just the same.
Yahoo! management likely won't articulate any comparisons between their company and Google, the search engine company that
recently filed for a $2.7 billion initial public offering, says one Internet analyst.
But by talking about improving margins and a full-service offering for advertisers, Yahoo! will try to douse some of the enthusiasm that Google's IPO filing has sparked among investors, predicts the analyst.
"I think people are expecting comparison points with Google, and I think they'll be there," says Mark Mahaney of American Technology Research. "But I think they'll be indirect, not direct. It wouldn't be the style of this management team to go out there and make direct comparisons with Google."
One place a comparison might come up is in the area of operating cash flow, also known as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. In early 2003, when Yahoo! last gave long-term guidance on operating cash flow margin -- that is, OCF as a percentage of revenue -- it was for a range of 32% to 35%. But Yahoo! reported a 37% OCF margin for the first quarter ended March 31, and CFO Sue Decker told analysts the company planned to update its guidance range at the analyst meeting.
Google, on the other hand, reported EBITDA margins of 63%, by Mahaney's calculation; that number is causing investors to wonder why Yahoo!'s margins aren't better.
Mahaney guesses that at the analyst day, Yahoo! will raise its long-term EBITDA guidance to at least 40%. Eventually, he forecasts, Yahoo!'s and Google's margins will converge at 50%, he says. "I don't see why long-term these guys should have fundamentally different margins," he says.
Mahaney has a buy rating on Yahoo!, which he calls his No. 1 Internet pick; he has a price target of $69 on the stock. His firm hasn't done banking for Yahoo!.
Another indirect distinction that Yahoo! will likely address Thursday, says Mahaney, is a reminder that Yahoo! offers not only search engine advertising, via its Overture Services subsidiary, but also traditional branded advertising. Yahoo!'s prior references to "double-barreled" marketing services -- branded advertising and pay-per-click advertising -- imply that Google, with its pay-per-click advertising, offers only a single barrel to marketers, says Mahaney. "Implicitly, they are trying to get across the message, 'Yahoo! does search very well, thank you, and Yahoo! also does branded advertising very well, thank you.' "
The message about Yahoo!'s non-Google-like ability to be a showcase for branded advertising, Mahaney says, was also apparent in a story that ran in
The New York Times
Monday about a Yahoo! program for consumer products marketers such as
. The timing of that story for the week of the analyst meeting "sounds kind of interesting," he said.
Mahaney's third forecast for what will come up at the meeting is Yahoo!'s businesss outside the U.S.
Yahoo!'s international operations are growing faster than its U.S. business, he says, and it's an element of Yahoo!'s story that people may not know or appreciate. "I just have a sense you're going to hear a lot more about Yahoo!'s international strengths than you have heard about before," he says.
Yahoo!'s daylong presentation, which will be held in San Francisco, will be webcast starting at 11:30 a.m. EDT.
Click here to go to the site.