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雅虎+美国在线+微软:边缘公司的救赎之道

Kevin Kelleher 2011年11月21日

雅虎、美国在线、微软这三家公司的合并呼之欲出,当然其复杂程度也可想而知。但是,这个思路也自有其道理,至少可以使雅虎不致落入私募基金手中。

    雅虎公司(Yahoo)曾经是互联网行业的先驱,当年它的名字与其说是一句嘲弄人的俚语,不如说更像是一声惊叹。然而,这样风光快活的日子已经一去不复返了。过去几年以来,它一直在苦苦挣扎,以求在面临来自谷歌(Google)和Facebook的强烈竞争时能够继续站稳脚跟。如果说雅虎有志重返网络创新的前沿的话,眼下正是大好时机。

    雅虎有哪些选择呢?尽管这些选择都不免有些差强人意,但我们可以概括如下:雅虎可以依旧作为一家独立的上市公司,继续其痛苦不堪的自我拯救之路;它也可以将自己部分或全部出售给私募机构;或者它还可与其它同命相怜的公司合并,寄希望于规模效应来重振河山。

    上述做法都不大令人满意。但是,比起另外两个,其中一个听起来要好得多:最近雅虎与微软(Microsoft)和美国在线(AOL)共同成立了一个在线广告联盟,如果雅虎果真与这两家公司合并,即便其未来不那么辉煌,至少也能以体面的方式,保持稳定的赢利。而且,用户和股东也会对这种做法表示赞同。

    建立联盟可谓两害相权取其轻。前两项选择的结局很可能不利于雅虎。多年来,雅虎一直在竭尽全力扭转经营上的颓势,但结果充其量也就是勉强生存。过去5年中,公司营业收入稳步下滑,净收入一直持平。过去3年中,雅虎股票围绕着15美元上下摇摆,其中大部分价值都投到了亚洲资产中,而美国人对其亚洲资产知之甚少。

    尽管雅虎也许更愿意保留独立上市公司的身份,但那意味着,它一方面要面对前所未有的激烈竞争,另一方面还要与头脑日益清醒的股东斗个昏天黑地。谷歌在显示广告领域一路高歌猛进,攻城拔寨,而原本在此领域独占鳌头的雅虎只捡到剩下的一小块“蛋糕”。同时,社交媒体广告在总体在线广告开支中所占份额也在不断增长,而这个领域始终是雅虎的软肋。

    雅虎也有可能被收购,收购者要么是私募机构,要么就是另一家IT公司。许多分析报告认为,私募机构的可能性更大。据报道,KKR公司、百事通公司(Blackstone)、银湖公司(Silver Lake)、以及其他一些私募机构都在试探雅虎的虚实,有意收购部分或者全部雅虎资产。

    尽管雅虎眼下被私募机构收入囊中的可能性最大,但那又谈何容易。按照多数杠杆收购竞标者的标准,雅虎195亿美元的市值可谓庞大。同时,由于与雅虎日本公司和阿里巴巴公司(Alibaba)的关系,雅虎的公司结构可谓十分复杂。私下竞标有可能刺激敌对买家采取行动。如果这些私募机构孤注一掷,通过私人投资公开股票(PIPE, private investment in public equity)这种颇具争议的方式收购雅虎,可能会削弱现有股东的势力。

    The carefree days of Yahoo -- when the web pioneer's name was more of an exuberant cry rather than a sarcastic remark -- are behind it. For several years, the company has struggled to right itself in the face of tough competition from Google and Facebook. If Yahoo was going to return to the forefront of web innovation, it probably would have happened by now.

    What are its options? Here they are, in a not-so-pleasant nutshell. Yahoo (YHOO) can remain an independent public company, staying on its agonizing path of turning itself around. It can sell part or all of itself to private equity firms. Or it can merge with other firms in similar straits, hoping that economies of scale fix things.

    None of these options is very appealing. But one of them is significantly less unappealing than the others: If Yahoo were to merge with Microsoft (MSFT) and AOL (AOL), two companies it recently forged an online-ad alliance with, Yahoo has a decent shot at a steadily profitable if not exactly glamorous future -- one that could still satisfy both users and shareholders.

    Such a tie-up could be the least bad of the three options. The first two options are likely to lead to unhappy outcomes for Yahoo. Yahoo has tried to turn itself around for years, with results that could be described at best as treading water. Over the past five years, revenue has declined steadily while net income has flatlined. The stock itself has vacillated around the $15 mark for the last three years. A lot of the value is tied up in Asian assets that few Americans know anything about.

    So although Yahoo would prefer to remain an independent public company, it would mean battling increasingly disenchanted shareholders in the face of ever-tougher competition. Google (GOOG) is gaining ground in display ads, leaving Yahoo a smaller piece of the pie it once dominated. Meanwhile, social media ads -- a perennial weak spot for Yahoo -- is eating up a bigger piece of total online-ad spending.

    So Yahoo is likely to be bought out, either by private equity firms or another tech company. Most reports point to private equity firms as the more likely buyers. KKR (KKR), Blackstone (BX), Silver Lake and others are reportedly kicking Yahoo's tires with an eye to buying part or all of the company.

    Although this seems like the most likely scenario for Yahoo right now, it wouldn't be easy. Yahoo's $19.5 billion market cap is large by the standards of most leveraged-buyout candidates. Its structure is complicated by its relationships with Yahoo Japan and Alibaba. A private bid could incite hostile buyers into action. If the private bidders try to buy Yahoo with a PIPE, a controversial move usually reserved for the most desperate companies, it could dilute current shareholders.

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