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