In a call discussing Yahoo’s third-quarter earnings with analysts, Ms. Mayer emphasized she has returned nearly five times as much cash to shareholders than the company has spent on acquisitions in her two years as CEO. She also revealed for the first time that mobile ads are generating a meaningful portion of the company’s revenue.
While the CEO never mentioned Starboard, her comments struck a defensive tone and countered some of the points the hedge fund made last month, when it revealed it had taken a stake in Yahoo and pushed the company to reduce costs, explore a combination with AOL Inc. and consider splitting its stagnant core business from its Asian assets. “We all came here to return an iconic company to greatness, and I’m so proud of what we have achieved,” Ms. Mayer said. “We’ve come really far, really fast.”
Yahoo’s message to shareholders ran counter to Starboard’s Sept. 26 letter to Ms. Mayer, which blamed the CEO for wasting money on dozens of money-losing acquisitions. The investor called for Yahoo to “halt” its acquisition strategy.
Ms. Mayer reinforced her plan to buy companies to add talent and technology in emerging areas like mobile. Those investments, she argued, have helped Yahoo begin to make money from its millions of users on mobile devices. “Acquisitions have not been a choice for Yahoo in my view, but rather a necessity,” Ms. Mayer said.
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Yahoo is considering acquiring one or more large tech startups, according to people who have discussed possible deals with representatives from the company.
Yahoo has bought back $7.7 billion of its stock under Ms. Mayer’s tenure, a fact she and finance chief Ken Goldman repeatedly cited during Tuesday’s call with analysts. That amount is nearly five times the total it’s spent on acquisitions over the same period: $1.6 billion.
A Yahoo spokeswoman declined to comment on potential acquisitions.
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The company’s third-quarter profit surged to $6.77 billion, aided by a gain $6.3 billion gain from the sale of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. shares last month.
Ms. Mayer said she is looking at ways to avoid paying taxes on its remaining stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo Japan, but declined to provide specifics, citing an agreement it made with Alibaba not to discuss that process. Yahoo will update shareholders on possible tax strategies when it next reports earnings in January.
Total revenue increased to $1.15 billion from $1.14 billion, bolstered by a 6% jump in search advertising to $450 million, excluding traffic costs. But display ads continue to drag down results—revenue, minus those costs, dropped 6% to $396 million. Ms. Mayer admitted the company’s advertising technology is “quite aged” but that it is finding ways to bring “more modern, cost effective and updatable technology into the mix.”
Eventually, Ms. Mayer hopes revenue from mobile will exceed what it makes from desktop ads, she said in an interview on Tuesday. “That’s the plan,” she said, declining to specify a timeframe. Mobile sales in the third quarter more than doubled since the same period a year ago, she said.
“It puts them among the top five mobile players,” Mr. Squali said, referring to Google, Facebook, Twitter and AOL Inc.
Yahoo has closed eight remote offices under Ms. Mayer’s plan to reduce costs. The company cut nearly 500 jobs in India and Amman, Jordan, this month. The CEO said in the interview that she began working with an outside consultant earlier this year to review further cost-cutting measures. As for future cuts, she said Yahoo will evaluate them but nothing is planned.
The company is still losing ground to Google and Facebook. This year, Yahoo will claim 4.9% of the $50.7 billion market for online ads in the U.S., down from a 7.2% share last year, estimates eMarketer Inc.
—Brian R. Fitzgerald and David Benoit contributed to this article.
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