Yahoo's Carol Bartz talks turnaround, says 'no delay' on Microsoft search deal

In the technology world, every day seems like Google day. Or Apple day. Or Microsoft day. Or Facebook day. Or Twitter day. So where the heck is Yahoo (YHOO), the erstwhile search titan that has suffered humiliating trials and tribulations over the last two years?

Answer: It's plotting and planning to regain its lost luster, according to still-relatively-new CEO Carol Bartz. During a luncheon hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday in Singapore, Bartz sounded bullish notes about Yahoo, as well as the broader economy.

"Yahoo is certainly poised to execute financially," Bartz said. "We saw the economy stabilize in the last quarter, and that feels really good." What will feel even better to Yahoo investors is some top-line growth.

Bartz said Yahoo's search partnership with Microsoft (MSFT) -- which is supposed to lead to a credible Web search challenge against Google -- is on track to close in the first quarter of 2010. "There is no delay," Bartz said, according to MarketWatch. "We expect [the deal] in the first quarter."

But things aren't all sunny at Yahoo's Sunnyvale, Calif., headquarters. Bartz described this year's corporate performance -- 6% profit margins -- as "terrible, terrible." She informed her audience that her aim is to increase that to between 15% and 20% within the next two to three years by raising top-line results and cutting expenses. Bartz also said Yahoo plans to increase its hiring in India in an attempt to expand there.

No Overnight Turnaround Likely

Still, some analysts are skeptical that Bartz can bring Yahoo back from the brink. Among them is Brian Pitz of UBS, who was not exactly "fired up and ready to go" after Yahoo's recent analyst day.

"The company spent a significant part of its presentation highlighting its scientific approach to ad targeting, which we believe should help YHOO improve display pricing in the long term," Pitz said. "However, we continue to believe that turnarounds do not occur overnight, and execution remains the number one opportunity/risk to the story."

The company's stock, which is trading at about $16 a share -- up considerably from under $9 at its low in November 2008 -- has nevertheless been assaulted since 2006, when it was above $40. But that's the market. Investors "are fairly valuing it," Bartz said.

In her other comments, Bartz said Google's (GOOG) $750 billion purchase of mobile-phone ad provider AdMob shows the importance of this market to top tech players. But interestingly, she said Yahoo "is already involved in this space and does not need to make a similar acquisition," as described by ZDNet Asia.

Not Replaced by a Machine

Bartz also emphasized the importance of providing quality content for consumers. "We believe that we have a responsibility to do a good job in editorial, [and] not just [have] news delivered up by a machine," she said. "We actually have real people to see what we serve up in our front pages to make sure it's appropriate to the country and gives a local [user] experience."

Last month, Yahoo turned in a solid third quarter after an extended run of poor performance, as income more than tripled to $186.1 million, or 13 cents a share, up from $54.3 million, or 4 cents a share, for the same period last year. It was a welcome jolt of good news for a company that has been racked by takeover turmoil, management missteps and strategic sloppiness for two years.

For nearly a year and a half, the tech world was transfixed by Microsoft's hostile $45 billion bid for Yahoo, which then-CEO Jerry Yang resisted. Eventually, gadfly billionaire Carl Icahn convinced Yang to run into Microsoft's arms, but by that time, Microsoft boss Steve Ballmer -- offended by Yang's earlier snubs -- had rescinded his offer, leaving Yahoo to twist in the wind. When Yang finally resigned, employees were bailing out en masse.

Bartz is known as a capable executive with a penchant for colorful language. But it's going to take more than tough talk before Yahoo again commands the respect it once enjoyed -- and Bartz now seeks.

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