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Justin Post, an analyst at Merrill Lynch, today upgraded his rating on Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) to Buy from Neutral, seeing significant opportunity for the company to increase monetization of its search queries.

“Down 35% [year-to-date], Yahoo is at an attractive entry point entering a seasonally strong holiday period and in-front of a two-year search monetization upgrade cycle, in our view,” he wrote in a note this morning. “Two weeks ago, Yahoo formally launched new search campaign management tools and, while monetization improvements won’t meaningfully kick in until [the second half of 2007], we think Q4 estimates are washed out and 2007 buyside expectations are likely lower than sell-side forecasts.”

Post says Yahoo has “many, now seemingly underappreciated assets,” including the largest global user base, 24% year-over-year page view growth in Q3, the No. 2 video streaming site and the No. 2 position in search.

As for the takeover chatter, Post says he thinks Yahoo’s assets “would be compelling for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) or a large media conglomerate looking to build a meaningful online presence.” He’s thought that for a while now: Post analyzed the potential for a combination of the two companies in a report back in June.

Post set a price target on the stock today of $32. Yahoo shares today have gained 89 cents to $26.23.

Source: Merrill: Yahoo Assets Could Be Attractive to Microsoft