Here's the mess new Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer is taking over

@CNNMoneyTech July 17, 2012: 6:13 PM ET
Yahoo sales were flat as earnings fell slightly in another more-of-the-same quarter.

Click chart to see Yahoo's stock info.

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- New CEO, same old Yahoo.

Yahoo (YHOO, Fortune 500) reported middling second-quarter financial results on Tuesday -- new CEO Marissa Mayer's first day on the job.

The story is the same as it has been for years: The Web portal/digital media/technology/e-commerce and everything-else-in-between company just can't seem to find its footing. That's the mess that Mayer is taking over.

Yahoo's sales were essentially flat last quarter at $1.2 billion. Excluding advertising sales that Yahoo shares with partners, a figure also known as traffic acquisition costs, the company reported revenue of $1.1 billion, even with last year's results and just shy of Wall Street analysts' expectations.

That's nowhere near the level of growth expected of one of the most-visited websites in the world.

Profit is going in the wrong direction: Yahoo earned $229 million during the quarter, down 4% from the same period a year ago.

Despite all of its Web traffic, Yahoo's market value is basically on par with the value of its Asian assets. The rest of the Yahoo -- according to investors, anyway -- is more or less considered scrap.

Yahoo's Asian assets are worth $20.5 billion, according to Yahoo's latest financial report: $14 billion for its 40% ownership stake in Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba and $6.5 billion for the company's 35% share of Yahoo Japan.

Yahoo's market capitalization currently sits at $19 billion. Ouch.

During the company's heyday in the 1990s and early 2000s, Yahoo's biggest asset was its search engine. As the largest generator of search traffic on the Web, Yahoo was able to command big bucks for advertisements sold alongside its results.

But a tiny startup called Google (GOOG, Fortune 500), armed with a crack team of braniac software engineers, built a search engine based on computer algorithms and blew Yahoo out of the water. One of those original 20 braniacs was named Marissa Mayer.

Now, Mayer is taking over a company that several years ago abandoned search altogether through a partnership with Microsoft's (MSFT, Fortune 500) Bing engine. Yahoo now makes most of its money selling display advertisements -- those colorful banners and in-video ads that you see across the Web.

Yahoo was once the largest online display advertiser, but it has been usurped by Google and Facebook (FB) in many key markets, including the United States. Last quarter, Yahoo's display revenue grew by just 1% year-over-year. Its share of overall U.S. online ad sales has been cut in half since 2009.

The company's strategies for getting out of its funk have been akin to throwing darts at a dartboard.

Yahoo has long been caught between being a media and a technology company, with no clear path forward. Carol Bartz, who took the company's reins in 2009, tried to straddle the line between the two -- unsuccessfully.

Scott Thompson, who took over after Bartz, promoted media and content as Yahoo's key asset, while laying off thousands of employees to cut costs. Thompson also launched some odd crusades, including a Facebook patent battle that was quickly killed after his scandal-laden exit in April.

Mayer -- Yahoo's fourth CEO in as many years -- hasn't said much yet about the direction in which she wants to take the company. On a call with analysts, Yahoo Chief Financial Officer Tim Morse said he didn't know when Mayer would go public with her strategy.

"I honestly don't know. She's only been here a day, and that's not something that I discussed with her," Morse said. "But she's very mindful that this is a part of what we do."

Her background in managing Google's products and user experience suggest that a Mayer-led Yahoo might on refocus on a steamlined ecosystem of core sites and applications.

That's what some customers are hoping. Fans of Flickr, the popular but neglected photo site Yahoo bought seven years ago, launched a #DearMarissaMayer social media campaign on Tuesday begging her to revitalize the site.

Morse said he didn't have any insight into Mayer's plans for the company.

"It remains to be seen," he said. "Obviously Marissa is a high-caliber industry leader. Her resume speaks for itself. Marissa brings a strong tech background, but we also have a strong media presence as well. It's a powerful combination when we get it right."

Can Mayer craft a strategy that will finally lift Yahoo's ad sales and reverse its financial downslide?

That's challenge number one. Challenge number two is lasting long enough as CEO to find out.  To top of page

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