Fool on Call: New Search Engine of Growth

Ah ... the sweet sound of wailing and gnashing of teeth ... it must be earnings season. Survey the headlines following the release of third-quarter results for Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO  ) , and you quickly get the impression that no good news came from the Internet services provider. But, after my investigation of the company's quarterly earnings conference call, I found reasons to be optimistic.

To be fair, the headlines weren't exactly groundless in their pessimism, since earnings did fall 38% against the year-ago period despite top-line growth of 20%. You can find a nice Foolish recap of the results here. But, we are not putting our money down on what a company did -- or in this case did not do -- for us lately, are we? Nay, I say, we are looking ahead to see what the company can, and hopefully will, do.

Judging by the fallout of its stock over the past several months, Wall Street isn't expecting Yahoo! to do much. The contrarian in me says, "Not so fast," my suit-donning friends. Right about the time the Market begins kicking a company to the curb, is about the time we should be going to the gutters ourselves in search of a golden investment opportunity.

In this edition of Fool on Call, using the third-quarter earnings conference call, we will highlight two areas that Yahoo! is developing, which provide clues as to what awaits patient investors:

1. Project Panama
2. Social media

It isn't special ops, but it is a special opportunity
To be honest, Project Panama sounds like the title of a new Tom Clancy novel or the name given for a top-secret special ops campaign. Silly me, Project Panama is actually the name for a new search-advertising platform launched by Yahoo!.

That Google (Nasdaq: GOOG  ) and its new friend YouTube, as well as News Corp.'s (NYSE: NWS  ) MySpace, have been downright offensive with their Internet advertising growth, is no new news. So, how do you counter a lethal Peyton Manning-led Indianapolis Colt attack? Try on a Brian Urlacher-led Chicago Bears defense for size. Yahoo! is hoping to defend its ground with an improved model that allows advertisers to "better manage" advertising campaigns.

In September, Yahoo! saw its volume of page views increase by 24% to roughly 4 billion per day. The company anticipates that Project Panama will help it and its customers to better capitalize on this traffic. Beyond enabling advertisers to achieve "increased returns," Yahoo! CEO Terry Semel believes the program "will be able to unlock the full potential" of its large global user base, and improve its "search monetization capabilities."

The project is now live and the company has already seen some of its first customers to the new service. It should be noted, however, that the transition to the new platform will happen in stages as management is intent on providing a "smooth transition" to customers. As such, Yahoo! wants to be flexible with those looking to "defer the upgrade until after the holiday season." Rushing the transition doesn't make much sense anyhow, considering the new algorithm tied to the search engine isn't slated for release until the first quarter of next year.

But, when the complete system is up and running, the company believes it will be able to "derive meaningful financial benefits." Shareholders should see the financial benefits from the U.S. market in Q2, and in some of the international markets later in FY2007.

The new social revolution
The 1960s had its cultural revolution, and what has taken place at the turn of the new millennium may be as powerful of a social revolution. From MySpace to Facebook to YouTube to Photobucket to Flickr, there is a wide array of mediums catering to community exchange. Yahoo! sees social media and video as two of the three "biggest growth opportunities" -- the third being mobile.

At present, the company touts nearly 100 million users in this space, and is planning to increase this base by making video a priority. Semel states, "Our goal is to make video as ubiquitous as text throughout the Yahoo! Network."

Yahoo! believes it already has the "leading video technology infrastructure" established, needed to "deliver higher performance and better quality video." It plans to complement this system with improved user-generated content. To this end, it anticipates that the recent acquisition of Jump Cut, with its suite of online video editing capabilities, will play an important part in making video user-friendlier for web surfers.

Beyond user-generated content, Yahoo! will be increasing its own production of video content in sports, news, and entertainment. Additionally, new partnerships with outside sources like CBS News are another way that it is looking to increase the presence of video on its Network.

Yahoo! still in infancy
I'm not currently invested in any Internet services provider, though I admit, the recent decline of Yahoo! stock does have me taking a much closer look. But the fact I am not invested does not mean I am not interested in what's going on in this segment of the market. The one aspect that intrigues me most about Yahoo!, Google, and others, is that they are still wee little infants, showing only small glimpses of what they will be like when all grown up ... let's say 20 or 30 years down the road.

The opportunities seem almost limitless given the fact that Internet has been ever evolving even in the more developed market of the United States. Imagine then all of the possibilities when factoring in the effects of emerging markets and technologies. In the Q&A portion of the call, Semel gave us a glimpse of how radically different the Web could become over time when talking about the emerging market, where it is estimated that 85% of users see the Internet for the first time not from a stone age-old PC, but rather from nifty little mobile devices.

Whether it is new search engines, or the amazing universe that is social media, or mobile and emerging markets, this new world is an exciting one to be a part of. Judging from the latest moves by Yahoo!, the company is aiming to be at the forefront of those developments.

The search ends here for more conference call analysis:

Yahoo! and Costco areMotley Fool Stock Advisorrecommendations.To gain access to a free Stock Advisor special report, click here.

Fool contributor Jeremy MacNealy has no financial interest in any company mentioned. The Motley Fool has a user-friendly disclosure policy of its own.


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