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雅虎为何放弃分拆阿里股权

Don Reisinger 2015年12月09日

风险太大,上升空间太小。“雅虎董事会必须认识到,他们要对股东负责,要妥善地为股东创造价值。”

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雅虎不会再考虑将阿里巴巴的股权分拆成为一家独立公司,而是考虑有关其门户业务的其他交易选项。至于其搜索引擎和门户频道在内的核心资产,到底是变卖还是分拆成一家独立运营和上市的公司,目前不得而知。CNBC报道了上述消息。

在分析师看来,雅虎剥离中国阿里巴巴股份的想法极可能实现不了。原因也许很充分。

12月4日,证券公司SunTrust Robinson Humphrey分析师鲍勃•佩克就曾表示,雅虎董事会“可能”决定“暂缓”实施剥离阿里巴巴股份的计划。佩克在其报告中指出,雅虎或许会在董事会议上做出这样的决定。而且说到底,其中的原因可能是包括搜索和广告在内的雅虎核心业务引起了更大的兴趣,而且股东也担心剥离可能带来税务负担。

“我们认为雅虎董事会可能基于对该公司有利的新消息来调整决策。”佩克所说的新消息是指,最近有报道称几家公司正在和雅虎接触,目的是收购其核心业务。

标准普尔股票分析师斯科特•凯斯勒接受《财富》杂志采访时表示,他也认为雅虎董事会应该搁置上述剥离计划,原因是“时机不对”。

雅虎拒绝就剥离计划发表评论。该公司今年1月份曾宣布,打算剥离持有的阿里巴巴15%的股份。雅虎当时表示,这是充分实现这些股份的市场价值的理想途径。更重要的是,这是一个零税务解决方案。

2005年,雅虎斥资10亿美元收购了阿里巴巴四成股权,同时移交了雅虎中国的控制权。2012年,阿里巴巴用价值76亿美元的现金和股票购回了大约20%股份。随后,雅虎不断抛售阿里的股份,目前持股比例已降至15%。按阿里巴巴2069亿美元的市值计算,这些股票的价值约为300亿美元。

凯斯勒认为,“在超过五年的时间里”,雅虎一直在评估让阿里股份充分兑现价值的途径,但雅虎的问题自始至终都在于抛售300亿美元的阿里巴巴股票后,可能需要向美国国税局缴纳大约100亿美元的资本利得税。

因而,雅虎才会在今年1月份提出一个无需纳税的方案。根据该方案,雅虎将把这300亿美元的阿里股份剥离为一家公司,雅虎目前将其称为Aabaco。在继续持有阿里股票的同时,Aabaco还可以上市,并以手中的阿里股票为基础筹集数十亿美元资金。凯斯勒指出,期待阿里巴巴股票升值的投资者会对这笔投资感兴趣。

然而,按照美国目前的法规,要剥离这批股份又避免纳税,Aabaco必须经营某项业务。雅虎1月份曾说,这将是“雅虎的一项传统副业”,不属于核心业务。

但投资者和分析师一直怀疑这次剥离行动能否真的实现零税负。

今年9月份,雅虎自己似乎也对这种可能性产生了顾虑。该公司发布公告称,它已请求国税局在专属信件中予以认定,实际上就是认可剥离计划并保证今后雅虎无需为此纳税。国税局拒绝了雅虎的请求,并在近一周后就这份股份剥离计划正式颁布了“不认定”政策。国税局还说,它将研究雅虎剥离阿里巴巴股权的方案,并有可能推出新规来弥补税收漏洞。

随后,雅虎向投资者发布公告称,该公司正在推进剥离计划。公告指出,包括外部律师事务所Skadden,Arps,Slate,Meagher &Flom LLP and Affiliates在内,雅虎的顾问认为他们不会因此纳税,并引述国税局官员的话说,就算修订后的法规获得通过,也只适用于新的股份剥离行动,已经开始的剥离不会受到影响。

但问题依然存在。虽然相信雅虎仔细考量了各种方案,而且有理由信任其律师事务所(该事务所的一位前国税局律师写了一份100页的报告,解释了为什么按照目前规定本次剥离无需纳税),但凯斯勒仍认为,无法确定雅虎最后是否会被征税。

他表示:“问题就在于这个‘不一定’上。国税局有可能在今后几年内将本次剥离认定为应税行为,进而征收100亿美元的税款。雅虎不为此缴税是有可能实现的,但另一方面,国税局按兵不动表明,情况并不像雅虎所认为的那么明朗。”

此外,有消息称雅虎可能转让核心业务,这或许是该公司董事会决定暂缓剥离阿里股份的另一个因素。

12月初,不断有报道称雅虎董事会正在考虑出售媒体、电子邮件和广告业务的可能性。这些报道提到了一些潜在收购方,包括Verizon和InterActive等。雅虎核心业务对理想买家的报价可能达到80亿美元。对股东来说,非常重要的一点也许在于,转让核心业务后,雅虎就成了一家没有核心业务的公司。这种情况无疑和剥离阿里股份成立一家没有核心业务的公司就一样了,更何况,雅虎现有核心业务表现也不佳。不过,这样还是消除了最终需要缴纳大量税款的风险,因为阿里巴巴的股份将得到保留,因而不会成为转让的一部分。

在雅虎主要投资人杰弗里•史密斯看来,这种情况对雅虎来说很理想。史密斯同时也是私募基金公司Starboard Value的首席执行官,他是最直言不讳的雅虎批评者之一。

史密斯指出:“外界对雅虎的核心业务很感兴趣,而将阿里股份剥离到Aabaco,雅虎能扭亏的希望却遥遥无期,带有不确定性和不可接受的风险。此外,股东也非常支持公司放弃剥离计划并转让核心业务。”史密斯分析道,“有鉴于此,对股东来说最好的结果显然是董事会立即放弃剥离方案,转而通过竞标,以尽可能高的价格出售颇有价值的核心业务。雅虎董事会必须认识到,他们要对股东负责,要妥善地为股东创造价值。”

不过,几个月来雅虎一直承受着剥离计划带来的冲击,而且一直没有退缩。现在,核心资产有了转让可能,而剥离阿里股份也许会产生占其现值三分之一的巨额税负。面对阻力,雅虎需要再次决定是否进行剥离。

只不过,这次的阻力要比以前大得多,反对之声也要响亮得多。(财富中文网)

译者:Charlie

校对:詹妮

Yahoo has reversed its decision to spin off its huge stake in Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba into a separate company and is instead considering selling its core business, according to CNBC.

Yahoo’s hopes of spinning off its stake in China-based e-commerce giant Alibaba are in serious jeopardy, according to analysts. And there may be good reason for that.

Bob Peck, an analyst at SunTrust Robinson Humphrey, wrote in a note on Dec 4 that Yahoo’sboard will “likely” make the decision to “pause” its proposed plan to spin off the company’s Alibaba shares. In the note, Peck said that the decision, which could be made this week during the company’s board meetings, may ultimately come down to growing interest in Yahoo’s core business, including its search and advertising operations, as well as shareholder concerns over a possible tax liability related to the spin-off.

“We think the board will adapt its decisions to new information that avails itself,” Peck wrote, pointing to recent news of several companies reportedly circling Yahoo in hopes of acquiring its core business.

Scott Kessler, equity analyst at Standard & Poor’s, told Fortune in an interview that he agrees Yahoo’s board should scuttle plans for a spin-off, saying that the “timing is inopportune.”

Yahoo, which declined to comment on its plans, announced its plan to spin off its stake in Alibaba in January. The move was touted by the company as an ideal way to get full market value out of its 15% stake in Alibaba. Most importantly, it was a tax-free solution.

Yahoo acquired a 40% stake in Alibaba in 2005 for $1 billion and control over Yahoo China. In 2012, Alibaba paid Yahoo $7.6 billion in cash and stock to buy back approximately 20% of its shares. Yahoo has since divested yet more shares in Alibaba, bringing its current stake to 15%, or approximately $30 billion, based on the e-commerce giant’s $206.9 billion market cap.

According to Kessler, “for the better part of a decade” Yahoo has been evaluating ways to get its full value out of Alibaba. Yahoo’s issue, however, has long been that selling off $30 billion in Alibaba stock would result in what Kessler believes, could be an approximate $10 billion capital gains tax bill from the Internal Revenue Service.

Yahoo’s January announcement provided a way forward without paying taxes. The plan would see Yahoo spin off its $30 billion stake in Alibaba into a company it’s currently calling Aabaco. While Aabaco would retain ownership in Alibaba, the company would be public and raise billions of dollars based on that stake. Investors, according to Kessler, would be investing in Alibaba’s value, in the hopes that it would rise.

But in order for the spin-off to be tax-free under current U.S. regulations, the company must have an operating segment. Yahoo said in January that the operating segment would be “a legacy, ancillary Yahoo business,” not part of the company’s core operation.

Speculation among investors and analysts, however, continues over whether the spin-off would indeed be tax-free.

In September, Yahoo—seemingly concerned about the possibility itself—announced that it had requested a “private letter” from the IRS, effectively endorsing the deal and ensuring it would not face a tax liability at some point in the future. The IRS declined, and nearly a week later, issued a formal “no-rule” policy on the Alibaba spin-off. The agency also said that it would study the type of transaction Yahoo would use to spin off Alibaba, and potentially release new regulations to block the loophole.

Yahoo followed that with a statement to investors saying that it was pushing ahead with the spin-off. The company argued that its advisors, including the outside law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, had said it would not face a tax liability. The company also cited a comment made by an IRS official saying the modified rules, if passed, would impact only new spin-offs and not those that are already in process.

Still, questions remain. While Kessler is certain that Yahoo carefully evaluated its options and has reason to trust its law firm (the firm issued a 100-page letter penned by a former IRS attorney explaining why, under current regulations, the spin-off is not taxable), he says it’s impossible to know for sure if Yahoo will eventually be slapped with a tax bill.

“The problem is there is no certainty here,” he says. “The IRS could, in a couple of years, deem the transaction taxable and want $10 billion in taxes. It’s possible Yahoo would not need to face tax liabilities, but on the other hand, the IRS’ inaction suggests it’s not quite as clear as Yahoo thinks.”

There’s another wrinkle that may be giving the board pause: talk of a possible sale of Yahoo’s core business.

This week, reports have been swirling that Yahoo’s board is exploring the possibility of selling Yahoo media properties, e-mail, and advertising businesses. Several potential suitors have been identified, including Verizon, InterActive Corp., and others. Yahoo’s core business could fetch as much as $8 billion to the right buyer. Perhaps most importantly for shareholders, a sale of Yahoo’s core business would create the same scenario as the spin off—a company without the poor-performing core operation—but eliminate the risk of eventually facing a massive tax liability, since Alibaba would stay within the current company and therefore not be part of any transaction.

It’s a scenario that Jeffrey Smith, CEO of Starboard Value, a major investor in Yahoo and one of its most outspoken critics, says is ideal for the company.

“Given the strong interest in an acquisition of Yahoo’s core business, the uncertainty and unacceptable risk around both the plan to spin Aabaco, the eternal, elusive hope for a public turn-around, and the strong support from shareholders to abandon the proposed spin and sell the core business, clearly the best outcome for shareholders would be for Yahoo’s board to immediately abandon the spin and commence a competitive process to sell its valuable core business at the highest price possible,” Smith says. “It is imperative for Yahoo’s board to understand its fiduciary responsibility is to the shareholders and act as proper stewards of shareholder value.”

Still, Yahoo has faced backlash over the spin-off for months and has not backed down. Now faced with the prospect of selling its core business and the possibility of eventually facing a tax liability that would effectively amount to one-third its current value, the company will again need to decide whether to move forward with the spin off in the face of opposition.

Only this time, the opposition is much bigger and much louder.

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