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Yahoo ponders its next move

Tue., May 6, 2008, midnight

SAN FRANCISCO – Yahoo Inc.’s stock took a beating Monday after Microsoft Corp. withdrew its $47.5 billion takeover bid, but the punishment wasn’t as severe as many analysts anticipated because investors suspect the rivals eventually will renew their mating dance.

Although Microsoft has publicly indicated it will now focus beyond buying Yahoo in its effort to make its Internet division profitable, several analysts predicted the software maker will revive its offer in the summer or fall if Yahoo can’t snap out of a two-year funk that exposed it to an unwanted takeover in the first place.

“Should the frustration of (Yahoo) shareholders come to a boil, we believe (Microsoft) could re-enter the picture, essentially playing the role of the white knight,” analyst David Hilal of Friedman, Billings, Ramsey & Co. wrote in a Monday research note.

With similar opinions reverberating through the stock market, Yahoo shares shed $4.30, or 15 percent, to close Monday at $24.37. That wiped out nearly half the gain they made after Microsoft made its bid Jan. 31. The drop left the Sunnyvale-based company’s market value about $12.5 billion below Microsoft’s last offer.

Yahoo’s stock price was $19.18 before Microsoft made its offer.

“I was expecting to see a more extreme reaction” to Microsoft’s withdrawn bid, Stanford Group analyst Clayton Moran said. “Microsoft is trying to make it seem like it’s not coming back (with another bid), but this somewhat muted reaction shows the market isn’t buying it.”

Meanwhile, Google Inc., whose dominance in online search triggered Microsoft’s bid, seems poised to benefit no matter how the talks go from here.

Microsoft ultimately offered $33 per share, only to be rejected last weekend. Yahoo co- founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, who still own a combined 9.7 percent of the company’s stock, demanded $37 per share – a price Yahoo’s stock hasn’t reached in more than two years.

The insistence on a higher price prompted Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer to yank the offer off the table.

“We engaged with them, and we wanted to find a way to get something done. But they walked,” Yang said Monday.

If Microsoft returned with a “real offer and a real proposal,” Yang said, “we would be happy to listen.”

Monday’s backlash likely turns up the heat on Yang and the rest of Yahoo’s board, which rebuffed Microsoft. The unrest could lead to a rebellion at Yahoo’s still-unscheduled annual meeting, where shareholders could try to oust the board. Yahoo must hold the meeting by mid-July.

The blow to Yahoo’s stock was cushioned by expectations that the company will soon announce it’s turning over some of its advertising space to Google Inc., whose technology yields higher profits from commercial links.

But many analysts think working with Google could be a mixed bag for Yahoo. While Google could boost Yahoo revenue by $850 million to $1.6 billion annually, it might also hurt Yahoo by undercutting the appeal of its own ad platform.

An alliance between Google and Yahoo also would cause regulatory headaches because antitrust officials would take a hard look at the partnership because the companies combined control more than 80 percent of the Internet’s search advertising market.

While analysts debated how Yahoo and Microsoft should proceed, most agreed Google will benefit from the aborted takeover attempt.

“We believe Google is a major winner given the failure of the Yahoo bid,” Stifel Nicolaus analyst George Askew wrote in a Monday note. “Google is well positioned to continue to gain market share, benefit from any Yahoo (advertising) deal, and exploit any ongoing chaos at Yahoo and Microsoft.”


 

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