If you think AOL actually intends to buy Yahoo, you are wrong. That story hit the press this week but it’s a ruse to motivate Google exactly as I explained a few days ago. AOL has neither the money nor the motivation to buy Yahoo, which is analogous to a bus company buying a poorly-managed airline. AOL just wants to make Google jealous.
Here’s what I think happened. This is pure speculation on my part, of course, but I know most of the players and am even correct from time to time. I think one or more private equity firms brought the deal to AOL: they’ll put up the capital if AOL’s Tim Armstrong will manage the combined company, putting Carol Bartz out of her misery at Yahoo. This is not a bad idea, per se, except it conflicts with AOL’s current strategy in that Google could probably get government approval to buy AOL because their businesses are so different, but that difference largely goes away if AOL buys search-heavy Yahoo.
If AOL abandons its Google-centric strategy (selling itself to Google), then buying Yahoo is fine. But they can’t have it both ways.
Why, then, is AOL apparently considering a play for Yahoo? I’m not sure they are, but if the talk continues my guess is it is to force Google’s hand.
This sort of thing happens all the time. Here’s an example of what I mean. A privately held U. S. company is in talks to be acquired, wants to be acquired, but the negotiation is taking too long or the numbers aren’t high enough. What’s to be done? They can give-in and accept the lower offer. They can walk away from the deal hoping the acquirer will come back with a higher offer to get talks going again. Or they can take what’s behind Door Number Three, which is registering for an IPO on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Door Number Three is the smart move because, if successfully completed, that IPO will instantly double the eventual cost of acquiring that company at a later date. Acquirers that might have waited or deliberately slowed negotiations suddenly have to decide what the company is really worth to them and pay it, quickly.
I think that’s what’s happening here with AOL and Yahoo. There are some synergies, sure, but the potential deal has some real complications, too. Google doesn’t want Yahoo. Google might want AOL. AOL is certainly a lot cheaper for Google than buying Yahoo on almost any measure. So AOL is rushing the net, hoping to force the play on Google.
It should be interesting.