Kara Swisher

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Fat Lady Finally Sings: Yahoo and Alibaba Officially Shake on $7 Billion Stock Sale Deal (Updated)

As AllThingsD reported several days ago they would, Yahoo and Alibaba Group have finally reached an agreement for the Silicon Valley Internet giant to sell back half its stake in the Chinese Web company in a $7 billion deal.

The taxable shares sale agreement, which is now being approved by both boards, is part of a larger and more complex arrangement, which will also include a multibillion-dollar stock buyback by Yahoo and an eventual IPO of Alibaba.

And, perhaps most importantly, it will bring to an end what could be the longest running global cat fight in Internet history, in which the long-time partners have bickered over the terms of their relationship for years now.

It has mostly been over how they could get to the transaction they should be announcing later tonight (or morning in Hong Kong, which it is there now). While it could fall apart at the last minute, that is highly unlikely at this point.

(Update: The Yahoo board has approved the deal unanimously, said sources, so it is done done.)

(Update 2: Yahoo and Alibaba both confirmed the deal in a joint press release, which is below.)

Thus, after many failed attempts to strike a tax-free deal — also involving Yahoo’s Japanese partner, SoftBank — collapsed, the pair have finally settled on a taxable deal, which could net Yahoo upwards of $4 billion.

The transaction values Alibaba at $35 billion and is subject to a number of funding issues that could change the value of the deal.

But here is the overall situation, as I previously reported:

Yahoo is set to sell half of its roughly 40 percent stake in Alibaba, in a taxable deal. The transaction is likely to value that portion of Yahoo’s holdings at about $7 billion — or 20 percent of Alibaba’s $35 billion enterprise valuation. Alibaba is in the midst of raising capital to fund the sale.

After taxes of upward of 35 percent are paid on the long-term gains — remember that Yahoo bought the now-lucrative Alibaba stake for just $1 billion in 2005 — the company will use the funds to buy back its own shares. That stock has been caught in the mid-teens doldrums for quite a while, so this could help boost shares significantly.

A shareholder dividend is also being considered by the Yahoo board, but it is unlikely. It’s also not clear if some of the cash will be held back for acquisitions by Yahoo, sources added, but it is also unlikely.

As part of the deal, sources said, medium-term incentives have been put in place for Alibaba to move forward with a public offering, which sources stressed is without contractual obligation or a time frame. Alibaba execs have already been publicly indicating such a direction recently, but this will put them more firmly on that path.

Although there are no plans to go public as yet, the IPO incentive revolves around several terms, including the right to buy back half the remaining stake, which expires in December of 2015. As I previously reported, Yahoo will be required to sell back half of the 20 percent remaining stake upon IPO and the other half after that if Alibaba goes public in the time frame agreed to.

Lastly, the Alibaba voting rights for both Yahoo and SoftBank are much diminished in the new deal, according to sources, to under 50 percent.

Translation: Alibaba CEO Jack Ma is now in the driver’s seat completely.

Once close, the pair have been wrangling over the large Yahoo ownership, which Ma has been trying to dislodge in a variety of nice and not-so-nice ways. It has resulted in a number of very public disagreements.

That included a nasty back-and-forth over its Alipay unit with now-fired CEO Carol Bartz, threats of takeover of Yahoo with private equity firms and, more recently, making friendly with its just-ousted CEO, Scott Thompson.

Those talks with him in recent weeks, which included a visit to China by Thompson, led to the new deal, which was negotiated primarily between Yahoo’s CFO Tim Morse and legal head Mike Callahan and Ma and Alibaba’s Joe Tsai.

The talks continued even as Thompson was suddenly engulfed in a controversy over a fake computer science degree on his resume that quickly led to his departure from Yahoo.

Ironically, the error was first discovered by activist shareholder Daniel Loeb, who is now voting on the deal as a newly named director of Yahoo, after successfully helping to oust Thompson.

He owns almost 6 percent of Yahoo.

The final decision to approve the deal was in the hands of a very new board of Yahoo, which has been drastically reshaped in recent weeks. It met to decide on the deal this weekend.

While the deal with Alibaba is finally nearing an end, Yahoo’s talks to sell its 33 percent stake in Yahoo! Japan is not part of this agreement. That’s due to what Thompson had called a “valuation gap,” which sources said is still an outstanding issue.

New interim CEO Ross Levinsohn has not been involved in the Alibaba deal in any significant way. But he certainly will benefit from its halo effect, if approved, especially given that it will likely boost Yahoo shares.

It also puts Yahoo in a unique situation, in which it must sink or swim more largely based on the value of its troubled core business.

That could mean a lot of things, including the eventual sale of the company, whose most lucrative asset recently — its Alibaba holding — will matter much less.

As soon as I get the press release, I will post it here, but no one is commenting, despite the inevitable happy ending to this long-running story.

And here’s the press release, finally:

Yahoo! and Alibaba Reach Agreement on Comprehensive Plan for Alibaba Stake Agreement Realizes Significant Value, Immediate Liquidity and Path to Future Monetization

Yahoo! Board Increases Share Repurchase Plan by US$5 Billion

May 20, 2012 — Sunnyvale, California and Hangzhou, China — Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) and Alibaba Group Holding Limited today announced they have entered into a definitive agreement for a staged and comprehensive value realization plan for Yahoo!’s stake in Alibaba.

The first step is the repurchase by Alibaba of up to one-half of Yahoo!’s stake, or approximately 20% of Alibaba’s fully-diluted shares. The purchase price will be based on a valuation of Alibaba to be established through equity financings that Alibaba intends to undertake to finance the transaction, subject to a floor valuation of approximately US$35 billion. The agreement includes substantial financial incentives for Alibaba to raise the additional equity at a valuation higher than US$35 billion. At the minimum price and assuming the initial repurchase of the full 20% stake, Yahoo! would receive from Alibaba consideration of approximately US$7.1 billion, composed of at least US$6.3 billion in cash proceeds and up to US$800 million in newly-issued Alibaba preferred stock.

The agreement also establishes a framework for Yahoo! to monetize its remaining interest in Alibaba in stages. First, at the time of an initial public offering (IPO) of Alibaba in the future, Alibaba will be required either to repurchase one-quarter of Yahoo!’s current stake at the IPO price or allow Yahoo! to sell those shares in the IPO. Second, following such an IPO, Yahoo! has registration rights and rights to marketing support from Alibaba to enable Yahoo! to dispose of its remaining shares, at times of Yahoo!’s choosing following a customary lock-up period.

This agreement is a result of extensive discussions between the two parties and a comprehensive review of both taxable and tax-efficient alternatives. Yahoo! and Alibaba believe this agreement to be the best path to align incentives and maximize value for shareholders of both companies and it paves the way for Alibaba to achieve future public market liquidity for all of Alibaba’s shareholders. For Yahoo!, the agreement provides for a staged exit over time, balancing near-term liquidity and return of cash to shareholders with the opportunity to participate in future value appreciation of Alibaba.

“Today’s agreement provides clarity for our shareholders on a substantial component of Yahoo!’s value and reaffirms the significance of our relationship with Alibaba,” said Ross Levinsohn, Interim CEO of Yahoo!. “We look forward to continued collaboration with the Alibaba team on business initiatives as we explore joint opportunities for growth and benefit from Alibaba’s future. I want to thank Jack Ma, Joe Tsai and the Alibaba team, as well as Tim Morse, Michael Callahan and our Yahoo! team for their dedication in achieving this successful outcome.”

“This transaction opens a new chapter in our relationship with Yahoo!,” said Jack Ma, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Alibaba Group. “I look forward to working with Ross Levinsohn and the Yahoo! team as Alibaba builds China’s leading e-commerce company. Yahoo!’s global audience reach will provide attractive partnership opportunities for Alibaba to explore markets outside of China. The transaction will establish a balanced ownership structure that enables Alibaba to take our business to the next level as a public company in the future.”

“We look forward to delivering the proceeds of the near-term transaction to our shareholders, and to the further enhancement of value and the additional monetization in the future that this agreement enables,” said Timothy R. Morse, Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Yahoo!.

In addition to the share repurchase, the companies have also agreed to amend their existing technology and intellectual property licensing agreement. Among other things, this amendment will result in Yahoo! granting Alibaba a transitional license to continue to operate Yahoo! China under the Yahoo! brand for up to four years, while restrictions on Yahoo!’s ability to make other investments in China will be terminated. Alibaba will make an upfront lump sum royalty payment of US$550 million to Yahoo! and continuing royalty payments for up to four years. In addition, Alibaba will license certain patents to Yahoo!. Upon closing of the repurchase transaction, the Alibaba shareholders’ agreement will be amended so that the parties’ respective rights will be commensurate with the parties’ post-closing level of ownership in Alibaba. Yahoo! will continue to be represented on Alibaba’s board of directors with the right to appoint one of four existing directors.

Yahoo! intends to return substantially all of the after-tax cash proceeds to shareholders following the closing of the transaction. While the form of the return of capital to shareholders has not yet been finalized, Yahoo!’s board has increased Yahoo!’s share buyback authorization by US $5 billion concurrently with this transaction.

The transaction is subject to customary closing conditions. Alibaba will be required to close the repurchase with respect to at least one-quarter of Yahoo!’s current stake in Alibaba regardless of the amount of financing raised, and up to one-half of Yahoo!’s current stake if it obtains the requisite financing. Alibaba intends to finance the repurchase through a combination of its own cash resources, debt, equity and equity-linked financing. The transaction is expected to close within approximately six months.

UBS Investment Bank acted as lead financial advisor to Yahoo! and Allen & Company LLC and Goldman Sachs & Co. also served as financial advisors. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP acted as lead legal counsel to Yahoo! and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP also acted as legal counsel. Munger, Tolles, & Olson LLP acted as legal counsel to the Yahoo! Board of Directors. Credit Suisse acted as lead financial advisor to Alibaba and Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz acted as lead legal counsel to Alibaba. Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP acted as counsel to Alibaba on certain financing and Hong Kong legal matters and Fenwick & West LLP acted as counsel to Alibaba on intellectual property matters.

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— Valleywag editor Sam Biddle