Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Yahoo's Stock Acts Like It's in Play–Because It Kind of Is, as Predators Circle

Make no mistake–there are no definitive offers on the table to do a variety of takeover deals of Yahoo by either private equity moneybags or from big media giants such as News Corp. or smaller Web firms such as AOL.

But that does not mean that major players are not circling Yahoo (YHOO) and assessing the situation aggressively, a fact reflected in the rise in the Internet giant’s stock price today based on the many rumors swirling around it.

Despite being news to some, BoomTown had previously written about all these various scenarios, including interest from News Corp. and AOL, after the recent departure of a trio of top Yahoo media and sales execs brought into sharp relief the pressure that CEO Carol Bartz is under to turn around the company.

Yahoo shares were up almost six percent to close at $15.25, a high of late. It is up to $16.20 in after-hours trading.

According to sources close to the situation, that’s because big PE firms such as Silver Lake Partners, as well as News Corp. (NWS), AOL (AOL) and others, all have their PowerPoints and speadsheets opened up to try to figure out if there is a deal to be made to buy all or a piece of Yahoo in the wake of corporate turmoil, slow revenue growth and weak stock under the leadership of CEO Carol Bartz.

Sources said the key players in the growing soap opera are the execs who run Yahoo-affiliated companies in Japan and China. That would be Masayoshi Son of Yahoo Japan and Jack Ma of the Alibaba Group.

Yahoo owns big and lucrative stakes in both companies, assets which make up a big part of the company’s current valuation.

The sale of those stakes is what has some investors interested, since–if thorny tax issues can be solved–it would make the purchase of part or all of the well-known Silicon Valley company very inexpensive in relative terms.

Sources added that any approach would have to be nonhostile, since Yahoo still has some stringent antitakeover provisions in place from a hostile attempt a few years ago by Microsoft (MSFT).

But alternate CEOs to Bartz are part of the ruminations:

As I wrote two weeks ago, which was again reported today:

Most frequently mentioned by big investors in Yahoo: AOL (AOL) and its CEO Tim Armstrong.

Armstrong, said sources, has not shied away from the idea of Yahoo acquiring AOL and installing him as CEO with Bartz as chairman. AOL’s valuation is just $2.65 billion.

Although AOL has also been trying to turn itself around and is in a much less powerful position than Yahoo, Wall Street likes Armstrong’s story for AOL as a modern-day media and media distribution company.

“At least he has a narrative that is believable,” said one big investor in both companies. “Bartz has no vision.”

Among the other credible candidates most mentioned: News Corp. digital head Jon Miller, if the media giant were part of any deal, and Juniper Networks (JNPR) CEO Kevin Johnson, who was the architect of the failed acquisition of Yahoo by Microsoft.

What’s interesting here is what the board–and, most specifically, co-founder and former CEO Jerry Yang–is doing now.

For certain, it is receiving an incoming flood of negative communications from big shareholders, most of whom are unhappy with Bartz’s management. One big investor recently told board members that their continued inaction in the face of all the trouble was unsettling.

One big event coming up is the third-quarter earnings report by Yahoo on Tuesday, after the market closes.

If Yahoo’s sales remain as flat as they were in the second quarter, even with improved earnings, there will be even more scrutiny of Bartz to find growth.

And if Yahoo misses? Watch out.

One way might be via a big acquisition. Yahoo has recently been contemplating the local space, especially social discounting phenom Groupon. But the price would have to be high, sources said–well above $2 billion in cash and stock.

Would such a bold move be enough to keep the predators of Yahoo at bay? We’ll see, as the purple world turns.

A Yahoo PR person declined to comment on the stock rise.

Of course, rising on speculation, a higher stock is a problem for acquirers, as it makes Yahoo more expensive. Still, sources said a Yahoo deal of about $20 a share is entirely “doable.”

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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus