DealZone

from MediaFile:

Could Google buy Twitter? Ask Arrington, then ask Swisher

******We sprinkled updates into this blog. We're highlighting them like this.******Thanks to TechCrunch, U.S. tech reporters are about to spend another weekend working instead of playing. UPDATE: Or maybe Kara Swisher at All Things D will save them!******Two sources told proprietor Michael Arrington that Google "is in late stage negotiations to acquire Twitter." He wrote:***

We don't know the price but can assume its well, well north of the $250 million valuation that they saw in their recent funding.

***

Twitter turned down an offer to be bought by Facebook just a few months ago for half a billion dollars, although that was based partially on overvalued Facebook stock. Google would be paying in cash and/or publicly valued stock, which is equivalent to cash. So whatever the final acquisition value might be, it can't be compared apples-to-apples with the Facebook deal.

***

Why would Google want Twitter? We've been arguing for some time that Twitter's real value is in search. It holds the keys to the best real time database and search engine on the Internet, and Google doesn't even have a horse in the game.

******Later, he updated his entry to say that another source told him talks are at an early stage and could amount to a deal to build a Google real-time search engine. Who knows how this one will shake out. Web operations like Twitter can't get popular without people starting to fit puzzle pieces together to see which company ought to buy them. That might be why The San Francisco Business Times picked up Wired and Industry Standard founder John Battelle's blog entry that Twitter would go to Rupert Murdoch's News Corp for $750 million. Turns out it was an April Fool's joke.******Then Swisher at All Things D said this:***

While the "news" that Google was in "late-stage" talks to acquire Twitter, which TechCrunch reported last night, certainly sounds exciting, it isn't accurate in any way, according to a number of sources BoomTown spoke to close to the situation.

******She also covered herself with a "to-be-sure graf," as hacks like me call them:***

Google or anyone else could plunk down more than $1 billion in cash and I cannot imagine Twitter's investors would or could resist. Nor should they. And, what if, for example, Microsoft (MSFT) offered some huge cash payday for Twitter? In that case, I am certain Google would jump into the face-off, backing up a giant Brinks trunk to the door of Twitter's San Francisco offices.

from Shop Talk:

A suitor for Skype?

(Refiles to correct Donahoe's first name to John.)

TECH TAIWAN SKYPETo sell Skype, or not to sell Skype. That is the question for eBay, and Wall Street has diverging opinions on whether the San Jose company will or won't unload its Internet telephone service.
    
Skype was acquired under the reign of former CEO Meg Whitman (now a California gubernatorial hopeful) and touted as a nifty way for eBay's millions of sellers and buyers to connect. That reality never materialized, and current CEO John Donahoe has acknowledged that synergies between eBay and Skype are nonexistent.
    
Still, Skype is on a tear, growing at double digits and adding 350,000 global users a day. The five-year-old company logged $551 million in revenue in 2008 -- that number is expected to double by 2011 -- and is now a subject of great speculation by analysts, who wonder whether eBay plans to spin it off, or hold it close. 
                              
Cowan and Co's Jim Friedland, for one, thinks it's for sale. Writing in a note the day after eBay held an analyst presentation to outline the company's three-year plan, Friedland said it appeared "eBay was using the Skype discussion to trigger a bidding war between Google and Microsoft."
       
"We believe the asset would be attractive to both Google and Microsoft to enhance their web-based enterprise application services. In addition, Skype's user base of 405 million, which is particularly strong internationally, would likely strengthen Google's dominant position in the consumer web app market."

But Bernstein Research's Jeffrey Lindsay did not see it that way: "We think the dearth of buyers such as Google or Microsoft will mean that eBay is more likely to spin out part of Skype to the public (like Time Warner did initially with Time Warner Cable)."
    
Huh. Donahoe, incidentally, has said only that eBay will do what's best "to maximize Skype's potential and value."
    
Deutsche Bank's Jeetil Patel opined that, since Skype is performing well, "Management should hold on to this business model" and Credit Suisse's Spencer Wang said he did not see eBay rushing to sell.
    
"While we think the company would be open to parting with Skype at the right price (currently valued at $1.8 billion on eBay's balance sheet), a divestiture of Skype does not appear imminent," Wang wrote.

(Photo: Reuters)

Ego Masochist

“People who know me know I don’t have an ego about remaining independent versus not remaining independent,” Yahoo chief Jerry Yang told the Web 2.0 Summit. That’s a good thing because rejection is starting to become a refrain for the Internet company. 
 
Yang must be pumped by Yahoo’s share price, which surged after a rumor posted on a blog said the company was in advanced talks to sell itself to Microsoft for $17 to $19 a share. But the blog also reported that Yang would step down as CEO. Yahoo officials later said the report was untrue, but before the open this morning Yahoo shares were still climbing.
 
Google ditched a search advertising partnership with Yahoo this week. News Corp said on its earnings call yesterday that talked-about talks with Yahoo were not happening. Microsoft walked away from a deal to buy the company in May. Yang declined to comment on Yahoo’s discussions with Time Warner about buying AOL. Failure of that deal could at least give him a chance to jilt somebody, for a change.
    
Yang says he is still open to selling to Microsoft at the right price. The question is whether the price will be as resilient as his ego.  
 
Deals of the day:
 
* Malaysia’s CIMB Bank will make an offer to buy in the market the 57.87 percent of Thai lender BankThai that it does not already own and the price is expected to be 2.10 baht per share, BankThai said.
 
* Vodafone, the world’s biggest mobile phone group by revenue, has succeeded in its bid to take control of South Africa’s biggest mobile phone operator, Vodacom Group. 
 
* Kuwait’s Mobile Telecommunications said it planned to make four to five acquisitions worth up to $4 billion before 2010 after a global credit crisis depressed asset prices for telecom firms. 
 
* North American brewer Molson Coors Brewing has emerged as holder of a 5 percent stake in Australian brewer Foster’s Group, giving it a seat at the bar amid persistent takeover talk. 
 
* Swiss bank UBS bought a minority stake in Governance Metrics International, a research advisory company specializing in corporate governance. 
 
* Russian oil major LUKOIL and Italian refiner ERG will finalize a 1.35 billion euro ($1.74 billion) deal allowing LUKOIL to break into the western European refining business, industry sources told Reuters. 
 
* British property developer and investment company Westcity said it was pulling out of the Kenny Heights mixed residential and retail development project in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. 
 
* Property investment and development company Town Centre Securities said it sold its 50 percent interest in a joint venture to its partner, Q-Park Ltd, for 8.7 million pounds ($13.80 million) in cash. 
 
* Dublin-based Changingworlds, a mobile phone services firm that counts Vodafone and Sprint among its customers, said it had been bought by New York-listed Amdocs for $60 million. 
 
* Susanne Klatten, Germany’s richest woman, offered to buy the rest of Altana in a deal worth 910 million euros ($1.17 billion) as the specialty chemicals maker dampened its 2008 outlook.

Yahoo’s deal with Google: Band-Aid

So Yahoo and Google scaled back the terms of their search advertising deal in what looks like a last-ditch, attempt — at least for Yahoo — to get it past U.S. regulators.

Some analysts called it the Band-Aid deal, while others said it smacks of desperation.

Frost & Sullivan’s digital media global director Mukul Krishna said the revised terms were “more of a Band-Aid than the extensive surgery” Yahoo needs.

Getting online in Europe

A man browses web at an Internet cafe in MadridWith tens of billions in the bank collecting dust since its failed bid for Yahoo, and the elusive promise of the Internet still beckoning, Microsoft returned to the market for Internet search businesses with a $486 million purchase of Greenfield Online, the U.S.-listed owner of European price comparison website ciao.com. The buy is meant to help lift Microsoft out of fifth place in the European search market by giving a boost to its Live Search platform. Google‘s monster lead in the search market is a whopping 62 percent and 79 percent in Europe, according to the most recent data published by Web usage tracker ComScore. Microsoft has a 2 percent market share in Europe and 9 percent worldwide, behind both Google and Yahoo. In Europe, Microsoft is also outranked by online auction site eBay and Russia’s Yandex.

Four large hedge funds, all Huntsman shareholders, have proposed a plan to finance at least $500 million of the $6.5 billion buyout of the chemical company by a unit of Apollo Global Management. Hedge funds Citadel Investment Group, D.E. Shaw & Co, MatlinPatterson Global Advisers and Pentwater Growth Fund, and as of this morning, the Huntsman family, have agreed to team up on the financing plan, but Apollo’s Hexion Specialty Chemicals unit rejected the plan last night, saying Huntsman’s increased debt and decreased earnings since the deal was struck in July 2007 would no longer make a combined company solvent. “We are not seeking to renegotiate this transaction,” Hexion responded in a statement. “We are seeking to terminate it, and obtain judicial confirmation that Hexion has no obligation to pursue the acquisition or to pay Huntsman a termination fee.”

Allianz is set to sell Dresdner Bank to Commerzbank, sources with direct knowledge of the matter say, in a deal that will fuse Germany’s second- and third-biggest lenders. The deal, to be announced as soon as this weekend, will see Commerzbank take a 51 percent stake in Dresdner and buy the rest later, the sources said. Taking over Dresdner, which analysts estimate to be worth about 9 billion euros ($13 billion), will create a group to rival flagship lender Deutsche Bank and change the face of banking in Germany, Europe’s biggest economy. It will give Commerzbank a badly needed leg up in its home market, which is dominated by state not-for-profit lenders and allow Allianz to end an unhappy marriage that unsuccessfully tried to match investment bankers with insurance salesmen. The deal is likely to result in heavy job cuts, which would have been avoided had Allianz chosen to sell to another would-be buyer, China Development Bank.

Nokia’s Symbianic relationship

nokia.jpgFresh from having Yahoo slip through its fingers, Microsoft‘s plan to leapfrog into Consumerville takes another hit with news that Nokia is paying 264 million euros ($410 million) to buy out other shareholders of Symbian, the dominant player in smartphone software. Nokia says it will dissolve royalty payments for the platform, making it more attractive when compared to Google‘s rival free platform, Android. Symbian’s operating systemis already used in two-thirds of smartphones; Nokia makes 40 percent of all phones sold globally. “This puts a lot of pressure on Microsoft right at a time when they are trying to really push into the consumer space,” said Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi. “For operators this offers a good alternative to Android.”

British gas producer BG Group launched a hostile $13.1 billion bid for Australia’s Origin Energy, as it seeks to boost its position in Asia-Pacific’s fast-growing gas market. BG is taking its A$13.8 billion all-cash bid, valuing Origin at A$15.50 a share, direct to shareholders after Origin’s board rejected it last month. Origin claimed then that its coal seam gas reserves alone were worth over $15 billion. Shares in Origin, which have surged over 85 percent this year, rose 6.2 percent to a record A$16.48 before closing up 5.8 percent at A$16.42, indicating investors expect an even higher offer. If successful, the deal would be the second-largest foreign takeover of an Australian company after Cemex, North America’s largest cement producer, bought Rinker Group last year for $14.2 billion.

Russian oil major Lukoil bought a 49 percent stake in Italian refiner ERG SpA‘s Mediterranean plant for 1.35 billion euros ($2.1 billion), in a sign of the growing energy ties between Russia and Italy. Lukoil and ERG, Italy’s second-biggest refiner by market share, agreed a joint venture valued at 2.75 billion euros to control ERG’s Isab di Priolo refinery on Sicily. ERG will have 51 percent of the new company.

Chicken-and-egg time at Yahoo

chick.JPGA story in The Wall Street Journal about Yahoo’s “reorganization” plans even as executives are leaving had us wondering which came first, the reorganization or the departures. The cynical might envision two scenarios:

Scenario 1: Yahoo begins hemorrhaging executives the week after it chooses Google over Microsoft. Investors, already mad at CEO Jerry Yang and the board for not cutting a deal with Microsoft, are likely to see the loss of top talent as a fallout. So Yahoo decides to do some damage control by “reorganizing” its various products, such as mail and messaging, into something more centralized, and indicate that as the reason for some six departures this week.

Scenario 2: After failing to strike a deal with Microsoft, and with investors less than thrilled at the Google partnership, Yahoo needs to do something to show the world it’s worth more than $47.5 billion. It dips into a fast-depleting bag of tricks and pulls out, wait, a “reorganization” plan we’ve sort of heard before. Executives shake their heads, worry that may not save the company and that they’re better off as venture capitalists (or maybe they’re considering job offers at Microsoft), and begin deserting.

Game, Google

google.jpgWith Google looking like the big winner after doing an ad search deal with Yahoo, pretty much everyone else involved is looking like a loser. Microsoft will have to take its mammoth war chest and try to find another way to make a meaningful stab at the coveted online ad space — or concede the market altogether. Though Yahoo is waving enhanced revenue and cash flow figures around, the deal is seen as better for Google, which is the undisputed heavyweight champion in ad search and just gets a juicy space to show how mighty it is. “Google has made an enormous gain strategically. This move might well have shut Microsoft out of the online space altogether,” said Sanford Bernstein analyst Jeffrey Lindsay. Speculation is rising that the Yahoo/Google deal could provoke antitrust scrutiny, and Carl Icahn still has his troops massing to oust Jerry Yang and the Yahoo board. But if he had any clout to force Yahoo into a deal with Microsoft, it wasn’t on show yesterday. Did he lose cred, or does he plan to keep fighting? He may say soon, but probably not on his blog.

With signs that its wealthy clientele are growing nervous, UBS has wrapped up a 16 billion franc ($15.4 billion) rights issue. Flows into its wealth management business slowed to a trickle in the first three months of the year, and this is the Swiss bank’s second effort to resuscitate finances ravaged by the global markets crisis. Dieter Ewald, a fund manager at UBS shareholder Frankfurt Trust, said such concerns had prompted him recently to pare back his investment in the Swiss bank. “UBS is handicapped,” he said. “We are worried that wealth management will be hit. We want to see that the new management can bring it back on track, and then we would invest more again.”

Pfizer may bid for Ranbaxy Laboratories, countering a $4.6 billion offer by Japan’s Daiichi Sankyo for the Indian generic drug maker, the Business Standard newspaper said. Ranbaxy’s shares jumped nearly 5 percent on the report while Daiichi Sankyo’s shares dropped 2 percent. Daiichi Sankyo and Ranbaxy are seeking to become a pharmaceuticals powerhouse that sells both branded drugs and generics. The newspaper added Pfizer had held talks with the Ranbaxy founders for a possible acquisition a year earlier.

Shrinking Citi

pandit.jpgCitigroup chief Vikram Pandit has sold off assets here and there in the months since taking over the top job, including stakes in CitiStreet, CitiCapital and Diners Club. But with sources saying some $400 billion of extraneous assets are going on the block, it’s fair to ask whether the head of the country’s biggest bank is being boldly aggressive or slamming the panic button.

“The only reason you’d sell off that many assets is you have a lot more losses coming than you originally thought,” said Jim Huguet, co-chief executive at fund manager Great Companies LLC, which does not own Citi shares. Since late last year, Citi has recorded more than $45 billion of writedowns and credit losses, raised more than $40 billion of new capital including $2 billion of preferred shares this week, and slashed its dividend 41 percent. The Financial Times, which first reported the story on Thursday, said the moves would take place over several years.

Global economic instability has created huge investment opportunities for China Investment Corp, but the sovereign wealth fund’s head said he will be careful not to destabilize countries where it operates. CIC paid $5 billion in December for a stake in U.S. investment bank Morgan Stanley but has otherwise kept its powder dry as Western financial institutions have sought to replenish capital depleted by big subprime credit losses. “The current international market turbulence has produced unprecedented investment opportunities,” said Lou Jiwei, head of the $200 billion sovereign wealth fund. “In the 1990s, some hedge funds exploited defects in the macroeconomic policies of some emerging economies and attacked them, which damaged their economies and caused hardship for people,” he said. “CIC will certainly never do a similar thing.”