Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Alibaba and SoftBank Meet With Blackstone, as Promised Yahoo Investment Effort Proceeds

Alibaba CEO Jack Ma publicly promised in an onstage interview two weeks ago at our AsiaD conference in Hong Kong that his Chinese Internet company would start to meet with U.S. private equity firms to come up with possible ways to purchase Yahoo.

Now, as advertised loudly: Among the first stops, said several sources, was a meeting this week with Blackstone, a prominent New York investment firm that has been one of several large ones that have not signed a restrictive non-disclosure agreement with Yahoo.

The efforts to collect a possible investing group are being led by Alibaba CEO Jack Ma and the Chinese company’s CFO Joe Tsai, who are also working along with Japan’s SoftBank head Masa Son and its U.S. head Ron Fisher.

The group has been angling to hook up with one of several U.S.-based firms that has not signed the Yahoo NDA, in order to figure out a way to get back the huge and lucrative stakes the Silicon Valley Internet giant holds in both Asian companies.

Ma telegraphed this intent clearly at a speech at Stanford University last month and then later at AsiaD, saying:

“I think we still have not changed our mind, and we keep our strong interest on Yahoo. The thing is that we are waiting for the Yahoo board, and especially their independent directors, to tell us what exactly they want to do.”

At the time, Ma said he had limited patience, though, and would seek out other help if Yahoo did not want to play.

While it seems a little like a tail-wagging-the-dog effort, Yahoo’s Asian assets make up a lot of the value of the whole company right now.

This has emboldened Alibaba especially to try to position itself as a kingmaker in Yahoo’s current strategic review, which might include a sale of all or part of the company.

The importance of Yahoo’s Asian assets is quite true, but it’s a notion Yahoo is trying to block. In addition, it has also rejected several recent Alibaba efforts to buy back its stake.

Instead, Yahoo is considering not selling its Asian shares at all, while also getting key PE firms to throw in their lots with a company-controlled process around a variety of restructuring options.

Along with TPG Capital and KKR, Silver Lake agreed this week to the Yahoo NDA, which includes a no “cross-talk” provision among possible bidders.

That’s why Alibaba is seeking cash-rich partners who can talk to anyone they like, such as Blackstone. Interestingly, the firm knows a lot about Yahoo, having advised Microsoft on its failed takeover attempt several years ago.

Alibaba has also has been in touch with Bain Capital and Providence Equity Partners, among others, and is also considering larger strategic partners in the U.S., such as Microsoft.

Having a U.S. firm or company involved will be important since buying Yahoo would likely be a thorny issue for Alibaba and SoftBank, due to foreign ownership rules here.

While not certain, such a deal would likely face CFIUS — which is the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States, the federal interagency review process for foreign investment deals.

As I previously wrote:

“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.”

Alibaba has been working with Singapore’s Temasek and also Russia’s DST Global, but a consortium of only non-U.S. buyers would inevitably face tougher regulatory scrutiny.

If the group can come up with the money and an adequate deal structure at all, that is.

Buying all of Yahoo to get back their stock is tricky and would be a huge and complex endeavor, even if the group used a variety of tax-free schemes being considered.

But, even if an offer he makes was unsolicited, Alibaba’s Ma does have an ability to shake up angry Yahoo shareholders, especially if his deal is attractive enough and if he can paint the current Yahoo management as, well, Yahoos.

As AllThingsD‘s Peter Kafka noted at the end of his Ma interview at AsiaD:

“So, if you can sum up, Jerry Yang, Yahoo, independent directors, please make up your mind. Signed, Jack Ma.”

Answered the typically more voluble Ma simply, to the laughter of the audience: “Yes!”

For more, here’s Ma talking Yahoo at AsiaD in October:

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Your first 10 games will probably fail. Plan for that. Make your 11th game awesome.

— Andy Moore, independent videogame developer, to other indie developers at PAX Prime in Seattle