If reports by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times are correct, Yahoo’s board may begin exploring the sale of its core Internet properties today. The publications cite “people briefed on the matter” as their sources.
The news shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise, even to those who don’t closely follow the company.
After all, the world is full of people who once used Yahoo.com as their landing page on the Internet or read Yahoo News regularly and no longer do. In fact, millennials might find it hard to believe that Yahoo was once (1998), the most popular starting point on the web.
Yahoo mail once ruled as well, and though it still has plenty of users, it is nowhere near as popular as @gmail, @outlook, @me.com and several other services. According to Litmus Labs, Yahoo Mail has continuously lost customers over the past several years, and now owns only seven per cent of the market.
But it’s a big market.
Not only that, but people don’t change their email addresses and Internet habits all that fast which means that even though Yahoo’s core businesses are in decline, they remain substantial and may still be valuable to someone.
According to the New York Times, Brian Wieser, an analyst at Pivotal Research, told his customers last night:
“The saving grace for Yahoo is that it still has a relatively large user base that is reliant on the platform so long as they maintain email addresses there. It also has a still relatively strong sales force. As long as both of those factors remain in place, there would be time for an acquirer to establish new strategies and develop products while the property continues to generate cash flow.”
The bottom line is that even though Yahoo CEO Marissa Myers isn’t able to find a way to convince advertisers that their dollars are better spent on Yahoo versus Facebook or Google, someone else may be able to find a way to buy all, or parts of Yahoo’s web properties, and put them to good use.
Though Yahoo investors have been unhappy with Yahoo’s corporate performance for quite a long time, they’ve been appeased in one important way: Yahoo’s pending spinoff of its big, valuable stake in Alibaba Group Holding, Ltd. and in Yahoo Japan (which it owns in conjunction with SoftBank).
Until last month, many expected that the revenues raised in these deals would be tax free, that may no longer be the case.
As a result, activist investor Starboard Value is calling on Yahoo’s management to spin-off its core business now. In a letter addressed to Mayer and Yahoo Chairman Maynard Webb, Starboard’s “Managing Member” Jeffrey C. Smith wrote:
“We have grown increasingly frustrated with your unwillingness to accept our help and your dismissive approach to our serious concerns about the current situation."
He ended it with (what reads like an ultimatum):
“We urge you to change direction and do the right thing for shareholders. As we have expressed to you, we expect the shareholders’ interest to remain of paramount importance and will look to make significant changes to the Board if you continue to make decisions that destroy shareholder value.”
The Activist Investor Spurs an After Hours Rally
When activist investors speak, shareholders listen. We’ve seen that with Elliott Management and EMC, Elliott Management and Citrix, and this time it’s Starboard Value and Yahoo.
It would be a terrible shame if the money men, rather than technology leaders, drove computing’s next wave.