Microsoft has signed a confidentiality agreement with Yahoo, allowing the software giant to take a closer look at Yahoo’s business, according to a source familiar with the matter that talked to Reuters. Microsoft joins several private equity firms that are also poring over Yahoo’s books and operations, as they explore various options for striking a deal with the struggling Internet company. Microsoft’s signing of a nondisclosure agreement with Yahoo occurred “recently,” according to Reuters´ source.
Yahoo’s board has been mulling the company’s options since firing CEO Carol Bartz in early September. The alternatives include selling Yahoo’s Asian assets, such as the Alibaba Group in China, and auctioning off the company in its entirety instead of hiring a new CEO. Tim Morse, Yahoo’s chief financial officer, has been interim CEO since Bartz’s ouster.
The DealReporter said that Yahoo’s board is scheduled to meet next week to discuss its next step.
Microsoft unsuccessfully tried to buy Yahoo in 2008 for as much as $47.5 billion before walking away in frustration. Yahoo’s stock is worth less than half of Microsoft’s last offer of $33 per share.
Yahoo shares fell 3 cents Wednesday to close at $14.94. Microsoft’s stock price dropped 32 cents to close at $24.47.
The New York Times reported that Microsoft is primarily interested in protecting its Internet search advertising alliance with Yahoo if its partner pursues a sale or a dramatic reorganization. Microsoft currently provides most of the search technology on Yahoo’s website in return for 12 percent of the ad revenue generated from the results.
To preserve its business relationship with Yahoo, Microsoft already had explored contributing to a joint bid for Yahoo’s U.S. assets with some of the buyout firms that have been considering making offers. That list includes Silver Lake Partners, Providence Equity Partners and the Texas Pacific Group.
Alibaba CEO Jack Ma has publicly acknowledged that his company would like to buy Yahoo, but that could be difficult because of U.S. government concerns about a Chinese business owning a U.S. company that handles email and other electronic communications.