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Yahoo to report 1st full quarter under CEO Mayer

Michael Liedtke, AP Technology Writer

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- Yahoo Inc.'s fourth-quarter earnings report will also serve as a progress report on CEO Marissa Mayer's effort to turn around the Internet company.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: The results, due out Monday after the stock market closes, encompass Yahoo's first full quarter under Mayer's leadership. The company, which is based in Sunnyvale, Calif., lured away Mayer from her longtime job at Google Inc. shortly after the third quarter had already started.

Investors already have signaled their confidence in Mayer, who was highly respected during her 13-year tenure at Google. Yahoo's stock recently has been trading slightly above $20, its highest level since September 2008. The shares are up by about 30 percent since Mayer, 37, joined the company.

Since her arrival, Mayer has been focusing on improving employee morale, bringing in new engineering talent and intensifying the company's focus on mobile and social networking services — two of technology's hot spots in recent years. Yahoo has been stuck in a financial funk for the past four years, partly because it hadn't been building compelling mobile and social networking products under the five previous interim and permanent CEOs that ran between June 2007 and Mayer's hiring.

Yahoo now has to prove it can generate sustained revenue growth. That's a feat that has eluded the company since 2008, even though other companies such as Google and Facebook Inc. that rely on Internet advertising have been thriving.

Through the first nine months of 2012, Yahoo's revenue was unchanged from the same juncture in 2011.

Mayer hired another former Google executive, Henrique De Castro, as Yahoo's chief operating officer late last year to help figure out how to bring in more ad revenue.

The disappointing performance of an Internet search partnership with Microsoft Corp. has turned into a nagging headache for Yahoo. The alliance, forged in 2009, has helped Yahoo save money by relying on Microsoft's technology to deliver most of the search results on its website. But Microsoft's system hasn't been delivering as much as revenue as Yahoo — and investors — anticipated.

Although Yahoo's search advertising revenue has been improving in recent quarters, some analysts are still wondering whether Mayer might try to end the relationship and pursue other potential moneymaking avenues. The topic may come out during a conference call scheduled Monday to review Yahoo's performance during the final three months of last year.

Mayer also may elaborate on her strategy to buy startups for $100 million or less to bring in new ideas and product into Yahoo. Since the end of the third quarter, Yahoo has bought a trio of small companies — Stamped, OnTheAir and Snip.It — primarily to lasso their employees into its workforce.

WHY IT MATTERS: Despite its financial struggles, Yahoo still operates one of the world's most popular websites.

If Yahoo can revive its revenue growth, the company will be in a better position to make investments that spur more innovation and competition with its rivals. If that happens, consumers could benefit from better online and mobile services.

If Yahoo can't bounce back, it could resort to cutting costs by laying off workers at a time the U.S. economy is still on shaky ground.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Analysts polled by FactSet project earnings of 27 cents per share on net revenue of $1.21 billion. The earnings estimate excludes an $83 million charge that Yahoo planned to take to account for the recent closure of its offices in South Korea. The revenue figure subtracts the commissions that Yahoo pays to its advertising partners.

LAST YEAR'S QUARTER: Yahoo earned $296 million, or 24 cents per share, on net revenue of $1.21 billion at the same time in 2011.