Alibaba’s Ma Says He’s ‘Very Interested’ in Buying Yahoo

Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma
Jack Ma, chairman of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma said he’s “very interested” in buying Yahoo! Inc., the U.S. Web portal that ousted its chief executive officer last month amid stagnant growth and shrinking market share.

Ma said he’s had discussions with Yahoo, as well as other potential buyers, without identifying them. The executive, whose company is 40 percent owned by Yahoo, spoke at an event at Stanford University near Palo Alto, California.

“We are very interested in Yahoo because our Alibaba Group is so important to Yahoo, and Yahoo is also very important to us,” Ma said, when asked if he would buy the company. “There are so many people who are interested in that, and we are also talking to them.”

Yahoo executives said in a memo last week that their advisers have fielded inquiries from “multiple parties” interested in unspecified options. Ma’s existing relationship with Yahoo may give him an advantage in putting a deal together, said Brett Harris, an analyst at Gabelli & Co. in Rye, New York.

“It would make sense for Alibaba to be involved because they own such a large stake,” said Harris, who recommends buying Yahoo and doesn’t own the stock. “Yahoo investors at this point are so disillusioned that they would welcome any buyer.”

Dana Lengkeek, a spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, California-based Yahoo, declined to comment.

Stock Gains

Yahoo rose as much as 76 cents, or 5.8 percent, in late trading. Before the remarks, the shares had fallen 25 cents to $13.17 on the Nasdaq Stock Market. The stock is down 21 percent this year, giving the company a market value of $16.6 billion.

The company is reviewing strategy and seeking a new CEO after ousting Carol Bartz, who failed to reverse a growth slowdown or repel competition from Google Inc. and Facebook Inc. The process for reviewing strategic options is likely to take “months, not weeks,” according to the memo, which was signed by co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo and Chairman Roy Bostock.

As of mid-September, private-equity investor Silver Lake was considering a bid for Yahoo, people involved in the deliberations said at the time. As part of a deal, Silver Lake would sell off Yahoo’s Asian assets and then attempt to turn around the main operations or find a buyer for that business, the people said. Representatives from Silver Lake have approached other companies to gauge interest in purchasing Yahoo’s main business, one person said.

Asian Stakes

Yahoo’s Asian assets include stakes in Yahoo Japan Corp. and Alibaba Group, which provides e-commerce services in China.

Ma said he’s interested in all of Yahoo and that discussions are proving thornier than he initially expected. Negotiations are hitting snags over “political issues,” rather than financial ones, he said.

Ma is “pretty close friends” with Yahoo’s Yang, he said. Even so, Ma said he hasn’t visited the company’s headquarters during his current visit to the U.S.

When Yang was CEO in 2008, before Bartz was hired, Yahoo spurned a $47.5 billion offer by Microsoft Corp. The two companies later struck an agreement to outsource Yahoo’s search technology to Microsoft, diminishing the chance of a takeover. Yahoo now has market value of $16.6 billion.

Alibaba reached an agreement in July with Yahoo, following a four-month dispute initiated after Alibaba transferred Alipay -- China’s most popular online-payment service -- to a Chinese company controlled by Ma. Under the accord, Alibaba will get at least $2 billion in the case of an initial public offering or “other liquidity event” at Alipay.

Ma’s role in the Alipay dispute may make it more difficult for his company to acquire Yahoo, said Laura Martin, an analyst at Needham & Co. in Los Angeles.

“Jack Ma has damaged his credibility in American capital markets by his transfer of Alipay,” said Martin, who has a “buy” rating on shares of Yahoo and doesn’t own the stock. “With him, I’d get the cash at closing. You never know what you’re going to end up with.”

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