Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) stock has been on a tear rising over 70% since Marissa Mayer became CEO in 2012. This rate of price appreciation is probably not sustainable because the increase in share price has come about for reasons that have little to do with day to day operations.
There are three main reasons for the price increase. The first is the Asian assets represented by Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)’s stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan. These were smart early investments by Yahoo!, and the company would not be in business today without the asset value of these holdings and the cash obtained from a partial sale of the Chinese internet company Alibaba.
The second reason for the price appreciation has been a $3.6 billion stock buyback using some of the proceeds from the Alibaba sale. A stock buyback is basically a statement by a company that the Directors do not believe that the company’s business model warrants additional investment. Yes, Yahoo! has been making some investments by acquiring some small tech firms and Tumblr, but the buyback is designed simply to reduce the number of outstanding shares. Fewer shares outstanding makes the earnings per share look better.
The Alibaba investment was one of the only smart moves Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) management made in the previous decade. A $1 billion investment in 2005 has already yielded $7.4 billion in realized gains. Some analysts believe that Yahoo! stands to make another $20 billion as it liquidates its remaining 24% stake in Alibaba
The final reason is the euphoria regarding the hiring of Marissa Mayer as CEO. After having six different Chief Executive Officers over a period of 10 years, Yahoo! finally seems to have found a CEO who can articulate a vision for the future and raise the flagging moral of the employees.
The problem with Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO), from an investment stand point, is that all the good news is already reflected in the stock price. So, any future gain needs to come from improvements in the day to day operations of the company. Here things do not look so good.
Yahoo!’s primary business is as an internet portal and search engine that makes its money by selling advertising. Unfortunately for Yahoo!, internet advertising revenue has been dropping over the last year. Rivals Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) have been experiencing increased ad revenues over the same period of time. Google revenue was up 21% and Facebook had a gain of 37%.
Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has a significantly greater audience reach as it has the number one search engine and Android is the most widely used mobile phone operating system. Google Inc (NASDAQ:GOOG) has major social media platforms with both YouTube and Google+. Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO) just does not have anything that can compete and must settle for trying to hold onto a profitable second tier position.
Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has ten times the active users as Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ:YHOO)’s latest acquisition, Tumblr. Facebook has also been making big strides at mastering mobile. Its latest strategy of focusing on providing a strong platform for local advertisers has been successful and probably makes Yahoo! wish it still had Geo Cities.