Mayer Speaks: But Can She Deliver on Her Plans for Yahoo!?


Yahoo! (NAS: YHOO) CEO Marissa Mayer is notoriously mum when it comes to discussing the future of the $22 billion Internet search leader she took over in July, even going so far as to refuse to provide quarterly guidance. Mayer's been determined to let her actions speak for her, rather than hit the media outlets in an effort to become the "face" of Yahoo!.

That made Mayer's recent 30-minute dialogue with Patricia Sellers at the Fortune Most Powerful Women (FMPW) conference late last week that much more intriguing. Once you get past the silliness surrounding a couple of Entertainment Tonight-like quotes that went viral, Mayer provided some interesting insights into her vision for Yahoo!

Key takeaways
An overriding theme of Mayer's discussion at the FMPW was the need for Yahoo! to go mobile. The success of online advertising competitor Facebook (NAS: FB) in transitioning to the mobile marketplace is confirmation it can happen. With more than 60% of Facebook's 1 billion users accessing its service on mobile devices, it's quickly becoming the poster child for adaptation.

Mayer's vision is that everyone at Yahoo!, from the sales department to the tech geeks, and everyone in between, needs to understand the industry's most popular operating systems. The Yahoo! OS mandate includes getting a handle on Google's (NAS: GOOG) Android, Apple's iOS, and Microsoft's new Windows 8.

Yahoo!'s objective is to leverage its strength in online content to develop new, cutting-edge apps compliant with the mobile industry's leading operating systems. As Google has proved with its open-source Android OS, if you build systems that give mobile users easy access to what they want, they will come.

Beyond developing apps in-house, the future of Yahoo! includes building strategic partnerships with mobile OS leaders, as it did with Samsung. But partnering with Google? Sounds a little strange, but not exploring it as an option is old-school thinking. Mayer's made it clear she has an eye toward Yahoo!'s future, while at the same time firmly planted in the here and now. Aggressively developing new partnerships, and the supplemental revenue opportunities they represent, is a must as Yahoo! strives for a return to glory.

Yahoo! online advertising and search sales aren't likely to be swept under the Yahoo! revenue rug anytime soon, nor should they. Ad and search combined for about 80% of Yahoo! revenues last quarter. But as competition for online advertising dollars increases, mitigating shareholder risk and driving substantial, long-term growth requires supplementing Yahoo!'s existing revenue streams.

Going forward
The recent news regarding the lawsuit in Mexico, in which the preliminary ruling is for Yahoo! to pay $2.7 billion in damages, hasn't fazed investors as Yahoo! hits two-year highs in its share price. According to Yahoo!, there doesn't seem to be much merit to the case, or the ruling, and you can bet it isn't giving up its strong, new-found cash (thanks, Alibaba!) without a fight.

Mexico aside, Yahoo!'s shift to a multifaceted, content-driven solutions provider is the right one, but it's certainly not alone. AOL (NYS: AOL) is making strides in its efforts to become a content-rich destination site. The Huffington Post, along with AOL's video service On Network, aren't just extremely popular; they generate significant revenue.

It's a crowded playing field, and Mayer is working hard to get Yahoo! back in the game. For what it's worth, there are a few big hitters on board with Mayer and the Yahoo! team. York Capital added more than 11 million shares last quarter, and famed investor David Einhorn is in Yahoo!'s camp, too. Why? Yahoo!'s outstanding balance sheet, even after it accounts for deferred taxes from the Alibaba sale, and its relative value compared with the industry, remain attractive for value seekers.

It could be a while before we hear from Mayer again, but that's OK. Actions speak louder than words anyway, and for Yahoo! investors, so far, so good.

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