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Who on Earth Would Want to Buy Yahoo?


While pundits yap away about how Yahoo is fresh acquisition meat, we find it hard to believe. The company is pretty pricey, with a market cap of roughly $33.5 billion, and the number of businesses that could actually swing it is minuscule.

We understand why internet industry watchers think Yahoo is in play. At the very least, it's in flux. Former CEO Terry Semel was ousted last spring, management is fleeing the scene in droves, and the stock is drifting.

But even if Yahoo's business has been dwarfed by Google, its revenue is still growing (it grew by about 12 percent in the third quarter); and more importantly, co-founders David Filo and Jerry Yang, who own roughly 10 percent of the company, are dead set on executing on a turnaround plan.

The bigger question is who would want Yahoo? The major media players (Time Warner, News Corp., Viacom) are desperate to build out their online media businesses, but probably not to the tune of $33.5 billion. We asked a slew of analysts to weigh in on the odds of potential acquirers, and here's what they had to say:

·   NBC - The network, which is owned by conglomerate General Electric, has flailed on the web over the last decade, and while it needs to grow its online business, at least one analyst, who asked not to be named, thinks GE is more likely to sell NBC in the next couple years than it is to grow the business. The upshot? The chances that GE would have any interest in buying Yahoo are slim to none.

·   Microsoft - It just won't die: For at least a year, gossipers keep rehashing the same old rumor that Microsoft is in talks to buy Yahoo. While the company is one of the few businesses positioned to do it (Microsoft has plenty of cash on hand, a rich market cap, and would have no problem raising additional financing) such a deal would be a total disaster for Microsoft, according to Global Equities Research analyst Trip Chowdhry. "Microsoft has all the pieces it needs to build its Live brand. A Yahoo acquisition will disrupt Microsoft's execution, confuse customers, and dilute -- without repair -- Microsoft's brand," Chowdhry says. "The Live brand is youthful, while Yahoo resonates as an internet site for old people."

·   News Corp. - Rupert Murdoch is in it to win it, and he's willing to spend exorbitant sums of money to own the internet (as evidenced by his $580 million acquisition of MySpace). Still, an outright acquisition of Yahoo isn't really his style. "I think Rupert's been willing to take minority stakes in companies where he can take control," says Pali Research analyst Richard Greenberg. "I'm skeptical of the portal business in general and with the MySpace acquisition, I think News Corp. has some big opportunities to attack portals' core business."

·   Time Warner - It's been eight years since AOL announced its bid to buy Time Warner in a $165 billion deal. Since then, the AOL business has deteriorated dramatically, and Time Warner has even toyed with the idea of spinning it off. "We've seen how the AOL Time Warner merger just didn't work," says Greg Gorbatenko, an analyst with Jackson Securities. "Now AOL's dragging Time Warner down. If you were to introduce Yahoo into the mix, it would be like . . . you gotta be kidding me!"

·   Viacom - Although Viacom is expected to shop around for acquisitions this year, Yahoo is probably not on the shopping list. "We would expect Viacom to be more active in buying online assets in 2008, but these acquisitions would be small-to-medium moderately sized deals. A large acquisition, the size of Yahoo, would surprise us," says Laura Martin, Soleil-Media Metrics analyst. "It's more important for Viacom to get their core business in shape, and resolve issues with DreamWorks."

We're not saying a deal won't happen -- anything is possible -- but it seems a little far fetched to us.




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