Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yahoo! Buzz Will Lead to a Hangover

By Eric Jackson
RealMoney Contributor

10/14/2010 3:15 PM EDT
Click here for more stories by Eric Jackson

Yahoo! (YHOO - commentary - Trade Now) once again found itself in the headlines on rumors of a possible buyout deal. The stock got as high as $18 this morning before the open on the hopes and dreams of long investors that a buyout of the company by AOL(AOL - commentary - Trade Now), News Corp.(NWS.a - commentary - Trade Now) and a combination of private equity firms such asBlackstone (BX - commentary - Trade Now) orSilver Lake was imminent.

This news was broken last night by Kara Swisher at The Wall Street Journal's "All Things Digital" and then followed up by aJournal article. Swisher made it clear in her reporting that any deal wasn't imminent.

This morning, one Yahoo! shareholder said thatMicrosoft (MSFT - commentary - Trade Now) was the best acquirer for Yahoo! and should step up to buy the company in order to keep it from falling into the hands of AOL or News Corp. This line of thought goes: 1.) the burgeoning search deal between Microsoft's "Bing" and Yahoo! is too strategic for Microsoft to let Yahoo! fall into unfriendly hands, and 2.) taking out Yahoo! at its current $22 billion market capitalization is pocket change for Microsoft.

The problem is that such a deal is going to be very complex to pull off and -- in my view -- unlikely to happen anytime soon. As such, I believe Yahoo!'s stock price is headed lower in the short term, rather than higher. Indeed, Yahoo!'s price action this morning suggests that most investors are staring at the possibility of a deal in the cold light of day.

Haven't Yahoo! investors been here before?

Here's the big problem with a Yahoo! buyout in the short term: There are too many moving parts. If you're expecting Yahoo!'s board,, AOL, News Corp., Microsoft, and multiple private-equity bidders to get on the same page in the next month, I suggest you go organize world peace at the United Nations as your next task. Everyone has competing desires and price targets in mind.

The main driver of a Yahoo! shake-up is the company's stake in Chinese e-commerce site Alibaba. Most people know that Yahoo! did a deal to buy a 40% stake in Alibaba five years ago, probably Jerry Yang's biggest contribution to the company during his tenure. (It might go down as strategically even more important than his co-founding of the company. Think about that.) Alibaba has tremendous assets in China that are only going to become more valuable over time.

Most people also know that Yahoo! wants to wait to sell its Alibaba stake until after that company takes its remaining private assets public in an IPO. Alibaba, not surprisingly, would like to buy back Yahoo!'s stake pre-IPO.

What many people aren't aware of is that, under the terms of the 2005 investment, Yahoo!'s stake in Alibaba just increased to 39% from 35%. Alibaba CEO Jack Ma and his management team saw their stake drop to 32% from 36%. (Softbank Corp. retains its 29% stake.)


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