Yahoo, don't blow it -- again
Accept a buyout offer when it comes. It is the only sensible move.
Yahoo (YHOO) should take the money and run -- fast.
According to Reuters, Blackstone Group and Bain Capital -- along with some Asian partners -- are preparing a bid of about $25 billion for all of the Internet portal. It remains unclear whether China's Alibaba, which wants to buy back Yahoo's 40% ownership stake in it, will participate in the $20-per-share bid, though it seems likely it would.
The offer represents about a 27% premium over Yahoo's closing price of $15.71 on Wednesday and would be superior to the $16.60 bid that a group of investors lead by Silver Lake, a private-equity firm, reportedly made for a minority stake the Sunnyvale, Calif., company. It's also less complicated.
According to Bloomberg News, Silver Lake and a group of investors, including Microsoft (MSFT), offered to buy about a 10% to 15% share for $3 billion. The deal would be in the form of convertible preferred securities. As a sweetener, Bloomberg points out that Yahoo would be able to distribute as much as $5 billion as a special dividend, or do a share buyback. Investors, who have seen Yahoo shares decline by more than 40% over the past five years, probably won't like either option: They're short-term fixes that won't address Yahoo's long-term problem, which is staying relevant. (Microsoft owns and publishes Top Stocks, and MSN Money site.)
Co-founder Jerry Yang and the Yahoo board have never rebounded from their disastrous decision in 2008 to reject Microsoft's $44.6 billion offer. Veteran tech executive Carol Bartz, who was hired as the CEO in 2009 and fired earlier this year, was unable right the lumbering Internet pioneer. The company has been adrift ever since and has yet to name a successor to Bartz. Given Yahoo's situation, what sane person would want the job?
Earlier this week, AOL (AOL) CEO Tim Armstrong ruled out a merger with Yahoo. It's easy to understand why. Combining two weak companies wouldn't necessarily create a stronger enterprise. Wall Street isn't too keen on AOL's management either, sending shares of the New York company down nearly 40% this year. Yahoo, whose shares have risen on takeover speculation, is down only 2% during that same time period.
Besides, AOL has had more than its fair share of problems integrating acquisitions. The feud between TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington and the Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington over the launch of Arrington's venture capital fund CrunchFund is just one high-profile example. Arrington left AOL after critics raised concerns about potential conflicts of interests in his plans to run the fund and continue to write for the site.
Yahoo's best hope for sustainable growth -- and AOL's, for that matter -- is to become either a private company or part of a larger public one. It will need to invest heavily in itself over the next few years to develop original content, which may not pay off as quickly as shareholders would like. The best hope for Yahoo was the 2008 Microsoft deal. Since time travel is not an option, the Blackstone and Bain deal is the next-best thing.
The buyout firms know the media sector, thanks in part to their 2008 deal to acquire the Weather Channel with NBC Universal. Yahoo can't afford to spurn this offer.
Disclosure: Jonathan Berr does not own shares of the aforementioned stocks. He is a former contract writer with AOL.
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