The Yahoo Rumor Mill–The Broken Clock Will Be Right at Some Time
[UPDATED: I added a stronger first sentence to leave no doubt about there is no Microsoft-Yahoo deal at the present time and to be clear I am not backing off on my weekend post on the topic.]
Let me be crystal clear: Yahoo and Microsoft are not currently secretly at work on a pricey new search partnership and a piece this weekend in the Times of London that said they were is inaccurate.
It’s natural for the idea to be brought up, since they have talked about such a deal many months ago and have indicated publicly and recently that they should again in the future, so smart betting is correct in guessing that they probably will do some sort of search deal in the months ahead.
But this was put out as a supposedly reported piece, and it was wrong. There is no deal at this time, according to my sources and reporting, which has been pretty accurate overall on Yahoo.
Still, various unsubstantiated rumors pop up weekly about deals between the pair, which are about as convoluted as a mash-up of “Richard III” and “Macbeth,” with some “Three’s Company” thrown in for comic relief.
The core problem is, of course, that for the past year or so with regard to Yahoo (YHOO), truth has indeed been stranger than fiction.
A founder takes over after a stumble from a Hollywood mogul, whereupon the sweet-natured Silicon Valley icon also fumbles. But, before he can right himself, what ho!–a dastardly midnight takeover attack by a giant invader from the rainy North.
Then another attack from the greedy East from a sneaky raider named Carl. And, next, a possible rescue from a powerful do-no-evil neighbor that turns into more of a do-some-harm result.
And, all along, more stumbles and bumbles, as the stock slides and employees flee like rats from a sinking ship. The founder founders, while all kinds of plots of usurping unravel around him.
He is, ultimately, banish’d (well, sort of).
You might think all this real-world plot would satisfy even a fan in need of a serious fix, after “Heroes” ran off the rails in its second season.
But no, the false rumors–all wrapped cleverly in some obviously logical suppositions–that have swirled around Yahoo have been breathtaking in both the level of stock manipulation clearly involved and their ability to be swirled around the Internet quickly enough for some vulture to make a killing on an endless willingness to believe anything.
Such was the case this weekend, with yet another story–this time in the Times of London–about Microsoft (MSFT) and Yahoo being involved in yet another hook-up.
Similar previous such reports have turned out to be bogus, but did always give the much beleaguered stock a short-lived bump upwards.
This time out, the Times told about a very complex search deal in detail, worth $20 billion, which was–of course!–imminent.
And–as an added plus, since Yahoo’s other story thread is a new CEO search too–the story also involved a pair of well-known Internet execs–Ross Levinsohn and Jon Miller–taking over as the new managers of the company.
The problem was that top sources at both companies rushed to deny it.
There were also serious insider trading issues for a major investor and board member, Carl Icahn, if it were true. He just loaded up on Yahoo shares a week ago.
And, oh yes, one of the co-CEOs-in-waiting, Levinsohn, told me he was not contacted by the Times (and neither was Miller, as far as he could tell) about his becoming leader of Yahoo.
Thus, he called the tale–on the record, mind you–“total fiction.”
Well, not total fiction, actually, because–as in all things–there has always been a grain of truth to the idea of some kind of deal for Microsoft to buy or monetize Yahoo’s search assets eventually taking place.
And who whispered that juicy nugget to me? Well, actually, both companies have said so loud and publicly many times recently to the whole world. Outgoing Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang did in an onstage interview in early November, as did Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer in another appearance.
And this week, Icahn said it again in an interview with Barron’s:
“I’ve said this before: Yahoo! should make a deal with Microsoft as far as selling its search capability…Microsoft has said publicly that they are not interested in buying the whole company, and I believe them. But they are interested in doing a deal on search, and we should pursue that.”
That’s pretty clear, I would say, on potential direction. And, it probably means both sides are surely getting there ducks in order to imagine such a deal, which does not take a lot of brain cells to surmise.
The Yahoo leadership that has resisted such a deal is on its way out, although there still remains significant resistance to it by some board members, which Icahn also said was true in that Barron’s interview.
But I would guess that the new CEO will be hired partly on the basis of being able to make nice with Microsoft.
And rather than get caught up in internal Yahoo corporate machinations, as it did to bad results in its earlier takeover attempt, one would assume Microsoft is patiently waiting to do a deal with a more willing team and board, if it can.
After all, it no longer has Google (GOOG) to compete with now that the search giant’s deal with Yahoo collapsed, due to much deserved regulatory scrutiny.
If Yahoo wants a search deal, it has no other real choices save Microsoft (except not to do a deal, of course).
But that kind of simple logic–as in, these corporate deals are more messy and slow than stealthy and well thought out–still seems to escape some.
One grassy-knoll type, in fact, expressed that proof-absent sentiment perfectly in this post about the Times story, which I underscore was not speculative, but represented as actual reporting:
“What we don’t know out of all of this is what’s truth or fiction, despite the latest denials.
Companies and governments like to deny all kinds of things before a deal is magically struck, taking everyone by ‘surprise’ yet again thanks to all the denials.”
Yes, it makes perfect sense! All these people and companies, all of whom don’t particularly like each other–including two principals who said they have heard nothing of the deal, despite the fact that they were to be co-CEOs of the resulting company–are all involved in a coordinated plot of deception that rivals anything Jason Bourne could unravel.
But let’s get a dose of reality, shall we? Just because some think there should be a deal between Microsoft and Yahoo and they both publicly indicate there could be, it simply does not count as actionable news, until it actually happens or there is a well-reported story that it is about to.
You can certainly prepare for such a thing and work it into your future stock price formulas, but these rumor eruptions are useless to anyone who cares about being an informed investor.
And if a deal between Microsoft and Yahoo is struck, that does not make the false rumors correct either.
If that was the case, score one for stock manipulators, who are no doubt behind a lot of this stuff.
My second vote for leak candidates goes to under-employed bankers, because–as one smart Internet exec noted to me yesterday–“there are more deal-doers than deals these days.”
Ain’t that the real and confirmed truth, forever and always?