Yahoo Responds to Microsoft: Quit Lowballing Us and We'll Deal

Posted by: Rob Hof on April 7, 2008

In the latest twist in the tango between Microsoft and Yahoo, the struggling Internet portal’s chairman Roy Bostock and CEO Jerry Yang have sent a public letter back to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Full text after the jump, but the gist is clear: Yahoo says it’s open to a deal, but not at the original $31-a-share price, whose total value has fallen by more than $2 billion as Microsoft’s stock price has slid since the Jan. 31 offer.

The letter follows one sent Saturday morning by Ballmer to Yahoo, threatening to initiate a proxy fight in three weeks if Yahoo’s board doesn’t start to negotiate seriously. Ballmer claimed that despite meetings between executives, Yahoo wasn’t engaging in serious negotiation.

Interestingly, the letter mentions that Ballmer himself attended two of the meetings between the two companies—implying more than the two reported in the press so far. That sounds like pretty serious negotations. But clearly they haven’t gone the way Ballmer wants, or at least he sees it in Microsoft’s best interest to make it sound that way.

One can’t help getting the feeling that this round of letters has to be among the last before the two sides really start negotiating, putting all those high-priced bankers to work, not just the PR troops. For all its many attempts to craft an alternative deal with Time-Warner’s AOL, News Corp., and others, Yahoo apparently has been unable to do so. It seems very unlikely at this point that Yahoo’s board is seriously entertaining alternatives.

Indeed, that’s what Yahoo’s letter today more than implies: “We have continued to make clear that we are not opposed to a transaction with Microsoft if it is in the best interests of our stockholders. … We are open to all alternatives that maximize stockholder value. To be clear, this includes a transaction with Microsoft if it represents a price that fully recognizes the value of Yahoo! on a standalone basis and to Microsoft, is superior to our other alternatives, and provides certainty of value and certainty of closing.”

Yahoo also said in the letter that regulatory issues need to be worked out: “As a follow up to a recent meeting among our respective legal advisors we had on this topic, and at your request, we provided to you on March 28 a list of additional information we would need to further our understanding of the regulatory issues associated with any transaction. To date, you have still not provided any of the requested information.” Of course, this also could be a simple delaying tactic on Yahoo’s part.

And so the game winds on. For all the orchestrated drama, the ending still seems pretty clear: This deal will get done. And sooner than later. Microsoft wants it too much, and Yahoo has no credible alternative.

Here’s the full letter, after the jump:

Dear Steve:

Our Board has reviewed your most recent letter with regard to the unsolicited proposal you made to acquire Yahoo! on January 31, 2008.

Our Board carefully considered your unsolicited proposal, unanimously concluded that it was not in the best interests of Yahoo! and our stockholders, and rejected it publicly on February 11, 2008. Our Board cited Yahoo!'s global brand, large worldwide audience, significant recent investments in advertising platforms and future growth prospects, free cash flow and earnings potential, as well as its substantial unconsolidated investments, as factors in its decision.

At the same time, we have continued to make clear that we are not opposed to a transaction with Microsoft if it is in the best interests of our stockholders. Our position is simply that any transaction must be at a value that fully reflects the value of Yahoo!, including any strategic benefits to Microsoft, and on terms that provide certainty to our stockholders.

Since disclosing our Board's position with respect to your proposal, we have presented our three-year financial and strategic plan to our stockholders, which supports our Board's determination that your unsolicited proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo!. Those meetings with our stockholders have also provided us an opportunity to hear their views.

We have continued to launch new products and to take actions which leverage our scale, technology, people and platforms as we execute on the strategy we publicly articulated. Today, in fact, we are announcing AMP! from Yahoo!, a new advertising management platform designed to dramatically simplify the process of buying and selling ads online.

Finally, our Board has been actively and expeditiously exploring our strategic alternatives to maximize stockholder value, a process which is ongoing. All of these actions have been driven by our overarching commitment to maximize stockholder value.

Our Board's view of your proposal has not changed. We continue to believe that your proposal is not in the best interests of Yahoo! and our stockholders. Contrary to statements in your letter, stockholders representing a significant portion of our outstanding shares have indicated to us that your proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo!. Furthermore, as a result of the decrease in your own stock price, the value of your proposal today is significantly lower than it was when you made your initial proposal.

In contrast to your assertions about the effect of general economic conditions on our business, Yahoo!'s business forecasts are consistent with what we outlined in our last earnings call. As you know, we recently reaffirmed our Q1 and full year guidance, which is a testament to our ability to perform in line with our expectations despite the current economic environment. In addition, our three-year financial and strategic plan which we have made public demonstrates significant potential upside not previously communicated to the financial markets. This plan has received positive feedback from our stockholders, further strengthening the view that Yahoo! is worth well more as a standalone company than the value offered in your proposal, and would be even more valuable to Microsoft. Your own statements have made clear the strategic importance of Yahoo!'s substantial assets and capabilities to Microsoft.

We regret to say that your letter mischaracterizes the nature of our discussions with you. We have had constructive conversations together regarding a variety of topics, including integration and regulatory issues. Your comment that we have refused to enter into negotiations to conclude an agreement are particularly curious given we have already rejected your initial proposal, nominally $31 per share at the time, for substantially undervaluing Yahoo! and your suggestions in your letter and the media that you are considering lowering the value of your proposal. Moreover, Steve, you personally attended two of these meetings and could have advanced discussions in any way you saw fit.

As to antitrust, we have discussed with you our concerns. Any transaction between us would result in a thorough regulatory review in multiple jurisdictions. As a follow up to a recent meeting among our respective legal advisors we had on this topic, and at your request, we provided to you on March 28 a list of additional information we would need to further our understanding of the regulatory issues associated with any transaction. To date, you have still not provided any of the requested information.

We consider your threat to commence an unsolicited offer and proxy contest to displace our independent Board members to be counterproductive and inconsistent with your stated objective of a friendly transaction. We are confident that our stockholders understand that our independent Board is best positioned to objectively and knowledgeably evaluate our Company's alternatives and to maximize value.

In conclusion, please allow us to restate our position, so there can be no confusion. We are open to all alternatives that maximize stockholder value. To be clear, this includes a transaction with Microsoft if it represents a price that fully recognizes the value of Yahoo! on a standalone basis and to Microsoft, is superior to our other alternatives, and provides certainty of value and certainty of closing. Lastly, we are steadfast in our commitment to choosing a path that maximizes stockholder value and we will not allow you or anyone else to acquire the company for anything less than its full value.

Very truly yours,

Roy Bostock Jerry Yang
Chairman of the Board Chief Executive Officer

Reader Comments

Thomas

April 7, 2008 12:09 PM

Total Nonsense on the issue of MSFT's offer allegedly undervaluing YHOO. January 30 & 31, YHOO was trading below $19 a share, consistently. A 60% premium is not appropriately valuing the company? What planet does that sort of reasoning occur on? YHOO, purely on price premium alone, should be jumping for joy in a marketplace that has the S&P500 down 15% and its stock jumping from the teens to the low '30's. Fiduciarially speaking. YHOO's board is definitely NOT doing its job of "maximizing shareholder value".

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Bloomberg Businessweek writers Peter Burrows, Cliff Edwards, Olga Kharif, Aaron Ricadela, and Douglas MacMillan, dig behind the headlines to analyze what’s really happening throughout the world of technology. Tech Beat covers everything from tech bellwethers like Apple, Google, and Intel and emerging new leaders such as Facebook to new technologies, trends, and controversies.

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