NEW YORK (CNN/Money) -
It's that time of the year again. Earnings season.
War-addicted tech investors glued to their TVs would be wise to also keep an eye on earnings reports because soon the market will again be squarely focused on fundamentals and the economy.
With that in mind, Yahoo! will kick off the profit reporting par-tay Wednesday after the bell. According to First Call, analysts expect earnings of 6 cents a share and $273 million in revenue, up from 2 cents a share and sales of $193 million a year ago.
But even that big growth won't cut it. The stock has surged 47 percent this year and now trades at 80 times earnings. There are great expectations for Yahoo! (YHOO: Research, Estimates) to beat estimates, and failure to do so could result in the stock crashing and burning faster than Miss Havisham's wedding dress.
"Yahoo! needs to keep over delivering in order to justify where the valuation is today," said Mark Zadell, an analyst with Blaylock and Partners. Zadell is expecting Yahoo! to post earnings per share of 7 cents and revenue of $278 million. He does not own shares of Yahoo! and his firm has no investment banking relationship with it.
Investors also will be keeping a close eye on sales guidance for the second quarter. Analysts are expecting sales of $292 million. Yahoo! typically does not discuss earnings targets, but analysts are predicting a profit of 7 cents a share.
Yahoo!'s serious search engine
Earnings are not the only reason Yahoo! is in the news this week. On Monday, the company unveiled improvements to its search engine, with new features such as maps, weather and news listed with search results. The changes are Yahoo!'s attempt to compete more effectively against Google, which is the most visited search engine on the Web.
But Google also is a Yahoo! partner, with its technology powering Yahoo!'s searches. So even with the changes, the results that come up on a Yahoo! search are nearly identical to those on Google.
How long that will be the case is in question, however. Yahoo! completed its acquisition of Google rival Inktomi last month, leading to speculation that Yahoo! will want to end its relationship with Google. The two renewed their partnership in October but terms were not disclosed.
Now, why is Yahoo!, which over the past two years has been taking steps to bulk up its array of subscription services, rediscovering religion in the search engine business? Basically, businesses seem to be more willing to spend money on sponsored searches (i.e. preferential placement in the results field of a search) as opposed to other forms of Web-based advertising such as banners and that highly annoying scourge known as the pop-up.
"Search is a huge business and Yahoo! needs to pay more attention to it," said Matthew Berk, senior analyst with Jupiter Media, a tech research firm. "It's more effective than banner advertising."
This has not been lost on other companies. Search engines are all the rage again.
Overture Services (OVER: Research, Estimates) recently announced deals for AltaVista and FAST, which will make it a tougher competitor to Yahoo!. But the two also are partners. Overture is a leader in the sponsored search area and it has a deal with Yahoo! to carry its sponsored search results.
And last week, an executive of a little software company called Microsoft (MSFT: Research, Estimates) said that the company is interested in the search market. The possibility of further consolidation in the sector is one reason shares of smaller public search engine companies LookSmart (LOOK: Research, Estimates), FindWhat.com (FWHT: Research, Estimates) and Ask Jeeves (ASKJ: Research, Estimates) are up 16.5 percent, 29.5 percent and 233.2 percent respectively so far this year. Microsoft does have more than $43 billion in cash after all.
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So it appears that Yahoo! has more than just Google to worry about.
But despite all the renewed hype about search engines (the Web is going to put the Yellow Pages out of business!), Yahoo! still needs to show Wall Street that it is able to get more users to pay fees for things like e-mail, auctions and job placement services.
Ad sales accounted for 62 percent of Yahoo!'s overall revenue in the fourth quarter. The main concern about Yahoo!'s dependence on advertising is that it makes the company more cyclical, like other media companies, and not as much of a growth play.
"Over the longer term the market would like to see some pickup on the subscription services as well so Yahoo! is not just truly an advertising vehicle," Zadell said.
It would be nice to see a pickup in the short-term as well.