Kara Swisher

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Yahoo Earnings Preview: Display Revs Yay!?! (Search Not-So-Yay)

Will Yahoo’s revenue growth drought finally end this quarter?

We’ll see tomorrow when Yahoo reports its first-quarter earnings, after the markets close.

As usual, investors will be looking for some sign that the Silicon Valley Internet giant’s lackluster revenue results have improved in CEO Carol Bartz’s over-promised but still under-delivered turnaround effort.

And despite Wall Street worries that sales will remain flat, sources insist that display revenue will be slightly better than expected, although those from its declining search business will remain weak.

A poll of analysts is expecting Yahoo to report $1.05 billion in net revenue and earnings of 16 cents a share.

That compared to revenue of $1.13 billion and 22 cents in earnings in the same period a year ago, which was goosed by the sale of its Zimbra email asset to VMware, as well as some benefits from its search and online advertising partnership with Microsoft.

There’s no extra cherries on top this quarter, especially in the search arena, which BoomTown previously reported was troubled.

As I wrote last week:

In fact, although its display business will show a definite strong recovery in Yahoo’s quarterly results next week, its search business–both in market share and revenue per search (RPS)–has, as one person close to the situation put it succintly, “fallen off the cliff.”

That’s due, in part, to getting the new system with Microsoft delivering better results, which is not happening yet (if ever!).

In this quarter, Microsoft has honored its contractual guarantees and will make up the difference–which will result in masking the magnitude of the RPS loss. It’s a worrisome trend to watch.

In the last quarterly call, Bartz had warned that MicroHoo had not grown yet into the beautiful swan expected in this ugly-searchling tale, noting that it might take until the second half of 2011 to see some prettier results.

Thus, Yahoo will turn Wall Street’s greedy eyes to display, an arena it dominates still, despite increasingly successful incursions from Google and Facebook.

A win here is key, of course, with investors hoping for a strong performance.

Yahoo’s stock certainly is not doing that, holding fast to its share price in between $16 and $17 for a while now. A year ago, the stock was above $18 a share.

As Citi Investment Research’s Mark Mahaney noted in an earnings preview today:

Valuation remains interesting, with a highly attractive Asian Internet investment portfolio. In terms of risks, we focus on: 1) Competition in the Display Ad segment from Google, Facebook, etc; 2) YHOO’s overall Internet Usage Share Loss–now less than 10% of U.S. ’Net usage minutes; 3) YHOO doesn’t have assets in place to take advantage of trends in Social, Mobile & Local Internet, and Video Advertising; & 4) We are challenged to identify a near-term positive catalyst.

“Challenged” translates to Mahaney saying politely that Yahoo has zip coming down the pike to change its situation.

That means Wall Street is not yet in the mood to give Yahoo shares a break. Here is one of BoomTown’s fave videos–the great Diana Ross, with the infectious song hit, “I’m Coming Out”–to get the right vibe going:

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Nobody was excited about paying top dollar for a movie about WikiLeaks. A film about the origins of Pets.com would have done better.

— Gitesh Pandya of BoxOfficeGuru.com comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”