Onda lunga

In un lungo articolo intitolato “The Internet’s Second Wave”, la colonna LEX del Financial Times torna a parlare di un tormentone molto caro a questo blog: Yahoo. Come più volte segnalato, potrebbe essere un’acqusizione ideale per Microsoft, Ebay o qualunque società di media voglia mettere le mani su una delle proprietà più ambite su Internet.

Con 35 miliardi di capitalizzazione, potrebbe essere l’operazione più importante nel settore internet, lasciando nel dimenticatoio l’acquisizione di Youtube da parte di Google per 1,6 miliardi. E’ un po’ tardi per l’operazione del 2006, ma chissà che Yahoo! non sia l’acquisizione del 2007.

Full disclosure: posseggo azioni Yahoo! su cui sono in perdita del 10%.

Riporto qui sotto l’articolo del FT:

Seven years ago the the first internet wave finally broke, with a massive bet on fusing old and new media. Time Warner and AOL are still repairing the damage. Will the second (more considered) wave of internet exuberance lead to another attempt at an industry-defining deal?

So far, media and internet companies have mainly bought bite-sized businesses. The main difference this time is that the likes of MySpace, bought by News Corporation, have already shown more substance than some of the hot air that was acquired in the late 1990s. Google for example signed a deal guaranteeing $900m of search revenues to MySpace over three years – more than the $580m News Corp paid for the business less than a year earlier. Those smallish deals are likely to continue as the likes of Viacom try to strengthen their internet platforms and Google and Yahoo continue broadening their positions.

But Google’s $1.6bn acquisition of YouTube may not be the high-water mark. If there is a big deal to come, Yahoo looks like the most probable target. It remains one of the most attractive internet platforms with a huge global audience across a range of products including search, email and video. But it faces problems, largely because its technology has not delivered enough search advertising revenue from its army of users. Its shares fell 35 per cent in 2006 – while some “old media” conglomerates made gains of that amount.

Something will have to change at Yahoo to reverse the momentum. So far, the company has adjusted its organisational structure and replaced some senior executives. It is still relying on a solution from its two-year-old project “Panama” to boost the money it makes from each search query.

But if there is another hiccup, such as a profits warning (say, because of more “Panama” delays or weakness in display advertising pricing, as new slots become available from rapidly-growing sites like Facebook and MySpace) the pressure for something more radical could grow. That might mean more drastic management changes. Alternatively, it could encourage another company to bet that it can make better use of Yahoo’s enviable internet presence.

The most obvious fit is Microsoft. Leaving aside the cultural and integration risks and possible anti-trust concerns, it could comfortably afford Yahoo’s $35bn market capitalisation. The group would fill a gap in Microsoft’s internet strategy, which has so far struggled to gain traction. Combining the two companies’ search businesses would come closer to rivalling Google’s market share and they would be a serious force in email and instant messaging. Microsoft would also be able to focus its huge technology resources on Yahoo’s search monetisation problems.

Others might also be interested, if Yahoo looked vulnerable. It could make strategic sense for a big media company looking to take a big leap on the web – which is attracting a growing share of audiences and advertising. While it would be a huge deal, at least Yahoo’s recent poor share price performance means it no longer trades at a multiple completely detached from those of media conglomerates. Ebay would no doubt investigate a merger. And Google would presumably be keen to find ways to link into Yahoo’s huge online traffic.

The second internet boom is marked by greater discrimination – notwithstanding some of the prices being paid for young, unproven companies. At least the big internet businesses are built on cash-generative foundations. But it could yet culminate in another big deal. The difference this time is that it may well be a big internet company that gets snapped up, rather than one using its highly-rated paper to do the buying.

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