Thursday, October 18, 2007

Yahoo!'s Q3 Recap: No Light Really Shed on Overture Japan Sale

Congrats to Jerry Yang, Sue Decker, and Blake Jorgensen (and the rest of the Yahoo!s) for a good Q3 announced Tuesday. Yahoo! shareholders and employees alike finally feel some wind at their backs.

Yahoo! under-promised and over-delivered to the excitement of investors in the after-market which carried through Wednesday's trading. Smartly, management looks to continue this approach in Q4 by keeping their heads low and their guidance lower.

The disappointment amid the good news was net income dropping -- specifically in affiliate revenues and in international. This is troubling when the company stepped on the gas in hiring in the quarter. That's something that definitely needs to be addressed this quarter. Further streamlining the middle-upper management would be a wise place to start, as well as in cuts for Southern California.

I was hoping for greater clarity from Blake Jorgensen on the deal which closed in the quarter whereby Yahoo! sold a $395 million a year business (or at least its sales and marketing operations, if not the de facto business) in Overture Japan to Yahoo! Japan (of which they are a 34% JV partner) for $13 million -- a "very nominal" amount to quote Jorgensen's Q2 call comments.

Here were Blake's relevant comments from Tuesday's earnings call on this topic:

...[L]et me provide additional color on the impact of the Overture Japan transaction. We believe that by enabling the Yahoo! Japan sales team to present a unified offering to customers, this deal will be a significant positive to both parties in the long term. As we discussed last quarter, this transition will reduce our reported GAAP revenue and TAC in Q4 and into 2008, resulting in a modest net decrease in revenue ex-TAC.

Yahoo! Japan will pay us a service fee for providing search advertising and support services, and we expect this transaction to be slightly positive in OCF in the short term compared to our previous affiliate arrangement with Yahoo! Japan. As we mentioned in July, we received a small upfront payment and we believe that the majority of the value of this deal will be realized via our long-term relationship with Yahoo! Japan.

It's not clear to me how the transaction allows for a presentation of a more unified offering to Japanese customers than a joint sales call with someone from Yahoo! Japan and someone from Yahoo! (Overture Japan). At the end of the day, the customer was dealing with Yahoo! Japan, not Google or Microsoft, for a discussion of how they could be best served by Yahoo! Japan.

As there will a "modest net decrease in revenue ex-TAC" through at least 2008, why did Yahoo! do this deal? Jorgensen offers two reasons in his next paragraph:

1. Slightly positive OCF in the short-term, presumably through the new "service fee" paid by Yahoo! Japan to Yahoo! Yet, it's not clear how this new service fee operates and how "slightly positive" the impact on cash flow will be.

2. The assurance of a continued, longer-term relationship with Yahoo! Japan. The implication of this benefit is that the relationship conceivably could have ended. I suppose the doomsday scenario is that you would have been searching for sushi in Tokyo through Yahoo! Japan with results delivered to you by Ask's algorithm. It's hard to imagine that Yahoo! would have let itself get into such a weak negotiating position to allow that scenario.

Unfortunately, none of the Wall Street analysts chose to ask about this during the Q&A session following the prepared remarks. Therefore, Yahoo! shareholders are still left wanting a more complete explanation.

Henry Blodget was curious why international revenue growth in the quarter decelerated from 15% to 9%. Here is a hypothesis: a $395 million annual revenue business (Overture Japan) that was sold off on August 31st wasn't able to contribute $32.5 million to Yahoo!'s last month of Q3. With that extra $32.5 million, Yahoo!'s Q3 international revenue would have been $608.3 million -- or a 15% growth rate over the previous year's Q3.

On the one hand, that's some comfort to Yahoo! shareholders in guessing why the drop. However, it still doesn't help us better understand the rationale for the Overture Japan deal in the first place.

Let's hope we don't have to wait until shareholders can push aside the analysts to ask these questions for themselves at next year's Yahoo! Annual Meeting.

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