- 22 Apr 08, 23:13 GMT
This is when the rubber hits the road." That was how someone close to the Microsoft/Yahoo contest put it to me recently, looking forward to tonight's first quarter results from Yahoo.
Both sides saw these numbers as just about the last play in their battle of nerves. Microsoft has given Yahoo until Saturday to make an agreed deal or face a hostile bid at a lower price. Disappointing figures would leave Yahoo's board with no place to hide, good numbers might give it a breathing space.
So now Yahoo has come out with figures that beat market expectations. Analysts predicted a 12% rise in first quarter revenues to $1.32billion, and Yahoo delivered a 14% rise on the year to $1.35 billion. First reaction came pinging to my laptop in an excited Twitter from the leading technology blog Techcrunch: "Wow, Yahoo revenue way high!" Now, giving the market $30 million more than it expected is fine - but is it really that spectacular?
"CEO and founder Jerry Yang certainly thought so. He began Yahoo's conference call with analysts by saying how proud he was of results that were "all the more remarkable given the economic climate and the uncertainty created by Microsoft's unsolicited bid".
He went on to repeat Yahoo's message that Microsoft was trying to buy it on the cheap - and that the board had a cunning plan to maximise shareholder value by pursuing alternative options.
No new revelations though about what those alternatives may be. But his colleagues then chimed in with glowing reports of progress in executing the new strategy Mr Yang brought in last year. That included the goal of sharpening up its performance in search to compete more effectively with Google - which has apparently now been achieved. So why then has Yahoo felt the need to start a trial of Google's AdSense technology?
And one quarter of good figures do not make a trend. After all, Google's revenue for the same quarter was $5.2 billion, up 42%, so the gap between it and Yahoo has widened further. I've just searched out the figures from the same quarter in 2004. Back then Google's revenues hit $652 million, just behind Yahoo's $758 million. Just four years on, Google hauled in four times as much cash as Yahoo. Who's betting on that gap closing any time soon?
So perhaps these figures don't change the game much. Yahoo is still being backed into a corner by its giant unwelcome suitor, and nobody is rushing to its rescue. Let's see what happens to the share price when the market opens on Wednesday.
Google shares soared by 20% after its spectacular figures last week. If there's no sharp rise in the Yahoo price, the market will be sending a message to Jerry Yang and his board that it is time to fall into Microsoft's arms.
Oh, and by the way - a quick message from me to those investment analysts on the Yahoo conference call. When you get half an hour with the man at the centre of the biggest takeover battle the technology world has seen, wouldn't it be a good idea to ask him whether or not he's talking to Steve Ballmer?
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