World and Nation

Microsoft and Google consider bid for Yahoo

As a host of potential bidders circle Yahoo, several of Silicon Valley’s biggest companies are considering whether to jump into the fray themselves.

Microsoft and Google are both weighing whether to participate in the bidding. Each has its own business reasons for wanting to see the continued existence of Yahoo, which despite its financial struggles still has a monthly audience of almost 700 million unique visitors.

But there’s one thing the technology giants have in common: not one of them wants to actually buy or run Yahoo.

Instead, Microsoft and Google are considering lending financial support to private equity firms or others weighing a bid, according to people briefed on the matter.

Microsoft is the furthest along, having held discussions with a number of leveraged buyout firms, these people said. Under one possible combination, Microsoft would chip in billions of dollars in financing as part of a consortium led by the private equity firm Silver Lake and the Canadian Pension Plan Investment Board, three of these people said. That group would be backstopped by billions of dollars in bank financing as well.

Google, for its part, has had conversations with two private equity firms about backing a takeover, according to another person briefed on the matter. Such discussions are in the early stages and may not lead to a bid, this person said.

Representatives for Microsoft, Google, Silver Lake and Yahoo declined to comment on any potential bidding.

While nearly every major private equity firm has been conducting some preliminary due diligence on Yahoo, potential suitors have been trying to sort out what bids would look like before they sign nondisclosure agreements with Yahoo to officially pore over its books, according to people briefed on the matter. These people spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about confidential talks.

But what has become apparent is that the private equity firms would be focused on turning around the company, while a deep-pocketed backer like Microsoft or Google would supply capital. A crucial Yahoo adviser, Allen & Company, has told potential bidders that they should focus on how to improve the company’s core North American operations and not worry about the divestiture of the company’s huge holdings in the Alibaba Group of China and Yahoo Japan.

Players like Microsoft and Google are primarily interested in what they could reap from teaming up with Yahoo. Yahoo’s news arm reported 81.2 million unique visitors in August, making it the biggest online news site.