The longer Microsoft's bid for Yahoo drags on, the more annoying it gets. Jerry Yang was surely hoping that today's financials would settle the matter, as were many inside and outside his company. Wall Street hates uncertainty, and so does Silicon Valley's careerist corps of engineers. No such luck. Yahoo's earnings were good, but not good enough to be decisive and prompt Microsoft to bid more. But really, why would it? Microsoft's $31 a share offer wasn't predicated on Yahoo's current performance, but what Microsoft managers thought they could do with Yahoo if they got their hands on it. If Steve Ballmer wanted this to be over with quickly, he'd simply offer more than $31 a share; that he hasn't is the best indicator of his low opinion of Yang and his crew.
So why the emphasis on Yahoo's earnings? Financial reports are numbers, not guesses. They boil down a company's prospects into easily digested figures. But their preciseness is their weakness; they look back, not forward. What investors — and acquirers — pay for is future results, not past performance.
What Yahoo is worth isn't about how fast Panama can ramp up search-advertising revenues, or whether dropping it for Google will produce more money. It's about what Yahoo could do if you ripped out existing management and replaced it with executives who have the respect of their employees and can command, and obtain, results. If Yahoo's engineers could push out a product like Panama in months, not years, the way Google's seem to do.
The hidden message in Microsoft's seemingly firm price is this: Ballmer thinks Microsoft's Web properties are doomed on their own, and his crew of screamers can run Yahoo a bit better than the muddle-headed consensus-mongers in Sunnyvale. But not that much better. If he really believed in his own people's abilities, wouldn't Ballmer just up his bid and seal the deal?