This Quarter Is Make-or-Break for Yahoo!

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If I can make it here, I'll make it anywhere!
It's up to you, New York, New York.

-- "Theme From New York, New York" by Fred Ebb, immortalized by Frank Sinatra in 1979

Yahoo! (NAS: YHOO) is under massive pressure from all directions. The stock never really recovered from the marketwide plunge in 2008 even as sector rivals climbed back right away. Over the past 12 months, Yahoo! has gone through a wholesale spring cleaning of its executive offices and boardroom, but investors are calling for even bigger changes.

Three months ago, Yahoo! met Wall Street's expectations in its fourth-quarter report. On Tuesday, new CEO Scott Thompson steps up to the plate with a first-quarter update. This time, the fate of the company may hang in the balance. This is Yahoo!'s New York in a metaphorical sense, where the company proves its worth.


Word on the Street
Analysts expect no progress: Both earnings and revenue are supposed to stay dead flat from the year-ago period. As bad as that sounds, it's actually an improvement from the recent trend of falling sales and jumpy earnings.

Still, the bar is set somewhat low. Yahoo! needs to clear it in order to have any credibility with its shareholders, and preferably by a decent margin. Last Thursday, Google (NAS: GOOG) showed that there's plenty of life in the online ad market right now, issuing a solid earnings report by growing its top line in excess of 20%.

What's the plan?
Yahoo! recently laid off 2,000 employees in a huge cost-cutting move. Fellow Fool Rick Munarriz rightly pointed out that workers fearing for their jobs aren't likely to come up with the kind of innovative thinking Yahoo! needs right now: "With thousands of fewer heads around to dream up the killer catalyst and those still around rightfully fearful of dreaming out loud, these workforce retreats are rarely the prelude to big steps forward," wrote Rick.

Meanwhile, Microsoft (NAS: MSFT) now runs Yahoo!'s ad-specked search services in a supposedly game-changing partnership, but the Bing deal has hardly boosted Big Y's top or bottom lines. Thompson also wants to sell the company's interests in Yahoo! Japan and Chinese frenemy Alibaba.

In the last earnings call, Thompson still hadn't found his sea legs. When asked what "broad themes" he'd like to invest in for the future, he played coy: "We're considering a number of options, and we are certainly considering ways in which we can increase the monetization of all the users and all of the traffic that we get. And I hesitate to say that we have picked, at this point in time, what strategy we're going to invest in, but we're after this with a real sense of urgency."

Let's see if Thompson's thinking has crystallized over the past three months. A deeper discussion of Yahoo!'s grand, unifying strategy would be very helpful, not to mention overdue. In particular, I'd like to know how Yahoo! hopes to keep up with Google while Facebook mounts a social attack on the company's enormous user base, even as Microsoft is tugging at the reins. It looks like an impossible task; I sure hope Thompson can prove me wrong.

The smartest investors buy distressed stocks when everyone else is selling. There's gold in undiscovered turnaround stories, and Yahoo! hopes to fit that bill one of these days. Find out what those geniuses are buying today.

At the time this article was published Fool contributorAnders Bylundowns shares in Google but holds no other position in any of the companies mentioned. Check outAnders' holdings and bio, or follow him onTwitterandGoogle+.The Motley Fool owns shares of Yahoo, Google, and Microsoft.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended buying shares of Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo.Motley Fool newsletter serviceshave recommended creating a bull call spread position in Microsoft. The Motley Fool has adisclosure policy.We Fools may not all hold the same opinion, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. Try any of our Foolish newsletter servicesfree for 30 days.

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