“Perplexed” by U.S. Ownership Rules, Alibaba’s Ma Yellow Lights Yahoo Buying Parade
After his unusually enthusiastic declaration at a Silicon Valley event last week that “we are very, very interested” in buying the “whole” of Yahoo, you might imagine Alibaba Group co-founder and CEO Jack Ma running out of the speech looking for a giant pile of cash to pay for it immediately.
Instead, according to sources close to the situation, what the Chinese entrepreneur got was a cold dose of CFIUS — or Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the federal interagency review process for foreign investment deals.
Translation: If you are from China and want to buy our U.S. companies, we are going to have to give you a major look-see and it is not going to be pretty.
Perhaps that’s fair, but the prospect that even a purchase such as Yahoo, a consumer business that seems to have little in the way of national security concerns, might enter the buzzsaw of U.S. politics apparently surprised Ma.
Thus, sources said, that while it remains very interested, Alibaba is now at least a little concerned about the feasibility of the deal and that Ma is “perplexed” about why the U.S. has such restrictive rules against foreign ownership of a consumer business.
That said, he has been in touch with Yahoo co-founder and board member Jerry Yang and is likely to make a more official visit soon with others involved in Yahoo’s strategic review.
In addition, sources said, rumors of an imminent Yahoo bid hook-up with DST Global and Silver Lake — which recently invested in Alibaba — are overblown. While Ma did say last week at his much-noticed speech at Stanford University that he was talking to a lot of buyers, Alibaba is not closely aligned with anyone as yet.
Of course, given that Yahoo owns a 40 percent stake in Alibaba, Ma will be a big player in any deal done.
That’s because of a 2005 agreement that stipulates that if there is a change of control, Yahoo must give Alibaba a 15-day chance to buy back its stake.
Still, after his effusive I-want-Yahoo-now speech that caught the Internet giant and its bidders off guard, dialing back the rhetoric a bit is probably no surprise given the delicate dancing now going on.
In other words, a case of wanna-be-buyer’s remorse.