Yahoo Shares Melt as Rumors Collide (Plus, I Add Another Log to the Fire)
Do sale rumors make a troubled asset more attractive? Yes — except when more rumors (that those sales rumors might not be true) appear.
Welcome to just another day in the life of Yahoo, which saw its shares drop more than 5.5 percent today. Its stock declined almost a dollar to close at $15.64, after it was reported by various news orgs that Yahoo might be leaning toward no sale and a shareholder dividend, and toward taking control of its own sale of its lucrative Asian assets.
That was counter to the news — from a number of the very same outlets — touting a variety of ever more elaborate and sometimes breathless sale scenarios last week, featuring various configurations of Microsoft, Google and private equity firms like Silver Lake and others.
Silver Lake, in fact, appears to be the most aggressive in the possible bidding for all or parts of Yahoo, and has been noodling such a deal most intently, and for a long time now.
It makes sense, given that Silver Lake was successful in a vaguely similar deal that ultimately saved the Internet telephony service Skype, which it eventually peddled at a high price to Microsoft.
In fact, according to several sources, Yahoo director and co-founder Jerry Yang — also a former CEO of the company, who appears to have seized the ball firmly in the strategy game — met with Silver Lake today for an unspecified little chitchat.
That said, one source told me, “what is deeply uncertain is whether Silver Lake will do something at all.”
This is par for the course in this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink drama. Because — although it makes for a boring post, and the back and forth throat-clearing before an actual event might be entertaining — so far, not very much is actually happening as yet at Yahoo, with regard to its variety of options.
Of course, this could change in an hour. Or tomorrow, or the next day. Most of all, it’s clear that Yahoo’s board has to move in some significant way before the end of the year.
So, yes, the Silicon Valley Internet giant is doing all the sales-oriented stuff it should do with its coterie of pricey bankers (presumably being paid by the hour).
Yes, it has recently hired a talent-search firm, which is eyeing the landscape to find a willing CEO. (Even more adviser costs!)
And, yes, it is still wrangling with its Asian partners — Alibaba Group and SoftBank — over how to do a tax-free transaction (you’d think from all the sweating over it that this deal was harder to solve than the European debt crisis).
And, on schedule, activist shareholders — like hedge-fund agitator Dan Loeb of Third Point — should be attacking again soon, until a deal is done.
But according to many sources both inside and outside Yahoo, what’s happening is pretty much business as usual for this Hamlet of a company, which is lugubriously debating and weighing and pondering its fate.
I suppose it should, given the importance of it all, except it is a conundrum that has been going on for far too long at Yahoo, and under a number of different leaders.
In other words, it’s like “As the World Turns,” except with some new characters and a whole lot more amnesia.
But the slowness of a very real process is also causing deep frustration with all those dealing with Yahoo now — including possible bidders, and definitely its Asian partners.
Their gripes — which are louder than in most deals — are not surprising: They refuse to sign a too-onerous NDA to look at Yahoo’s books; there’s an irksome tone of indecision on the part of the company’s board; and, as always, the incessant leaks about all of this and more are making it worse.
One bidder has likened the company to a “melting iceberg that has a lot less time than the planet has to put its house in order.”
Another bemoaned the variety of trial balloons being floated, and noted that no movement was what Yahoo seems to do best.
That’s not exactly true, of course, so expect to see more leaks about plots and plans and meetings.
But no matter what you hear, keep in mind that having Yahoo’s fate being spun about like a top on a daily basis on Wall Street and in the media is not good for the company itself — or for its employees and shareholders.
Since it makes me dizzy — even though I like a good scoop as much as the next reporter — that’s the reason I have largely stuck to reporting about the actual internal turmoil inside Yahoo, from poor employee morale to various staff rejiggerings to more relentless brain drain.
Because while everyone fiddles, Yahoo’s real prospects of maintaining its core business melt a little bit more every day.
Yahoo is on its third CEO in four years, it has lost advertising momentum to Google and Facebook, its engagement levels are dangerously slowing, its social and mobile strategies are unclear and even its powerful email product is under siege.
And in the end, it is only these things that will matter to whoever runs the company in the end.
[Photo from Mat Honan's fantastic tweet here.]