Hammer time at Yahoo under Bartz

Yahoo's fourth-quarter earnings will be announced on a conference call Tuesday, and it'll most likely be ugly.

Yahoo's fourth-quarter earnings will be announced on a conference call Tuesday, and it'll most likely be ugly. New CEO Carol Bartz, who two weeks ago began by demanding that everyone give the company "some friggin' breathing room," won't get any breathing room from investors. Instead, she gets to present the results of her predecessor Jerry Yang's final months of underachievement. The only ray of hope most investors have is that Bartz will be more blunt than Yang ever was.

Analysts mostly expect Bartz to announce that ad revenues have dropped off steeply, that more layoffs are coming, and that Yahoo's perpetual negotiations with Microsoft to buy the company are still on -- a promise some analysts say has kept Yahoo share prices from falling even lower than today's US$11 range.

Yang, the co-founder who came back as CEO in mid-2007, never seemed able to speak candidly or appear decisive. In his own debut call back then, he promised to map out a new long-term strategy in 100 days, and to make "any necessary changes" to turn Yahoo into "a company that powers and delights all of its communities by creating indispensable experiences."

Instead, Yang's biggest changes were the start of awkward, demoralizing layoffs and the shutdown of not-so-hot products, such as the paid subscription Yahoo Music Unlimited service. In his final earnings call in October, Yang vaguely talked up "progress" that mostly sounded like shutdowns and layoffs. Yang himself was ousted a month later.

Bartz has taken the opposite approach, refusing to make 100-day promises while, as one anonymous tipster put it, "cutting through the BS like a knife" behind the scenes. Let's hope she does that on the call.

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Paul Boutin

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