The board of Yahoo is considering selling both its 40% holding in the Alibaba Group of China and its 35% ownership position in Yahoo Japan to their majority owners. The tax-free transactions are valued at about $17 billion.
By reducing its investments in Asia, Yahoo would get a large cash infusion and would also be able to focus on turning around its core Internet advertising business under its new leader. *Yahoo*’s board in September ousted its chief executive, Carol Bartz, and started a strategic review that led to the discussions with the Asian companies as well as with private-equity firms.
In fact, just a few weeks ago, the company appeared to be leaning toward the sale of a minority stake to private equity investors: separate groups led by Silver Lake and TPG made bids to acquire stakes of roughly 20%, but despite initial support by the board those proposals have been harshly criticised by shareholders, who are concerned that such a deal would dilute their holdings and concentrate too much power with a new investor group.
Yahoo then restarted talks with Alibaba and Softbank, which had submitted an initial proposal in October. The plan is rather complicated: Alibaba would have to create a subsidiary and put several billion dollars of cash into it, as well as to create an operating asset that Yahoo would buy using additional cash from Alibaba. It’s more or less like giving Yahoo a prepaid card for an asset of its choice.
Alibaba would then swap the stock of this subsidiary for just under two-thirds of *Yahoo*’s stake in Alibaba. The transaction would leave Yahoo with a 15% stake in Alibaba plus the cash and the subsidiary’s assets. Yahoo would carry out an identical transaction for its entire 35% stake in Yahoo Japan, which has a market value of around $6 billion.