Yahoo (YHOO) stock saw a bump of more than 2 percent midday Friday. It might have been continuing rumors of a deal with AOL (AOL) or the news that the company has contacted ad agencies about a potential large television marketing campaign.
But the slightly improved position doesn't reduce the challenges the company and CEO Marissa Mayer face.
The stock has performed poorly during the year, activist investors are pushing for changes, and strategies that were supposed to resuscitate the aging Internet icon have failed to show success.
That raises the question of how much longer Mayer will be given to make the critical difference that Yahoo needs. Many investors and analysts are questioning her strategies and results after more than two years on the job.
Although the slight stock jump is certainly better than a drop, Yahoo's fiscal performance has been poor this year. Not only have revenues continued their gentle long-term decline, the Nasdaq stock has remained virtually flat over this year -- up by 1.6 percent since January. But the Nasdaq composite is up 12 percent for the same period. Yahoo lags far behind. In fact, Wall Street has valued Yahoo at less than nothing after its remaining investments in Alibaba (BABA) and Yahoo Japan.
Activist hedge fund Starboard Value sent an open letter to Mayer that was essentially a slap in the face. Starboard called for more cost cutting and questioned her "aggressive acquisition strategy which has resulted in $1.3 billion of capital spent" since the second calendar quarter of 2012, even as revenues have been stagnant and EBITDA, a measure of the potential for profit, "materially decreased." In other words, the major purchase of Tumblr and other companies was, in Starboard's eyes, a waste of money.
In the face of that criticism, there are new reports that Yahoo is preparing to invest in popular messaging app SnapChat at a $10 billion valuation. Currently, SnapChat does not generate revenue. Yahoo might hope to see the same investment success it had with Alibaba and Yahoo Japan.
Still, Mayer has entered the executive danger zone. After more than two years, she has failed to turn Yahoo around. Although her personal style is notably different from that of former CEO Carol Bartz, who ran the company for roughly two years, there are many parallels between the two leaders in strategies. Both pushed to cut operating expenses and increase earnings, and each was successful, with Mayer building on the start Bartz had made. As Bartz did before, Mayer has also struggled with establishing a coherent identity for the company.
It remains unclear what, if anything, Mayer can do to pull Yahoo out of its malaise. The problems the company faces are not just an issue of strategy and culture, but of underlying structure and business model. Yahoo started as a directory of websites and turned into a rag tag collection of services.
Starboard Value and others have pushed for Mayer to either create a deal with or buy AOL. But as some critics point out, although they are both essentially in the online media and advertising business, AOL suffers from many of the issues Yahoo faces.
It remains unclear whether anyone can actually remake Yahoo or if ultimately a breakup into its individual parts, or else a continued long decline, is in its future.