Monday, May 19, 2008

Microsoft-Yahoo: The Next Chapter

Over the week-end, a new chapter in the Microsoft-Yahoo combination began. Microsoft Corp. issued the following statement:

“In light of developments since the withdrawal of the Microsoft proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc., Microsoft announced that it is continuing to explore and pursue its alternatives to improve and expand its online services and advertising business. Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo! Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo! or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo! or Microsoft or with other third parties.
“There of course can be no assurance that any transaction will result from these discussions.”
I see it as Microsoft wanting its make and eating it too. It may have a chance to acquire Yahoo through Carl Icahn's proxy battle while seeking to create a friendly 'transaction' so that they can explore other options at the same time. Such a transaction clearly involves Yahoo's search-linked-advertising platform (Panama). It is brilliant because I am sure that Yahoo Board is now not interested to antagonize either Icahn or Ballmer by pursuing any discussions or explorations with Google. At minimum, this move forestalls Yahoo's any desire to examine links with Google or others. It also allows Yang, Icahn and Ballmer to discuss behind-the-scenes strategy for a possible corporate combination (read: acquisition) at a price that may be acceptable to all. If Ballmer gets Yahoo at the price that e offered ($34, I believe), he will declare victory. If Yahoo & Co. sell at $34, they can still declare victory since the official position seems to be that Ballmer never gave that offer formally in writing. At that price, Carl Icahn is a big winner (with may be $9/share gain in about a month or so--assuming that some deal will happen before the July Shareholders Meeting).
Ballmer gets the options to still play with Yahoo till early July without much cost. And he may be able to use Carl Icahn to do the fighting while he has his managers work out ways to figure out the best way to combine the complementary capabilities of Microsoft and Yahoo to establish a dominant #2 position against Google.
The story is far from being finished.

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