Technology stocks received something of a boost yesterday, with the NASDAQ rising 21 points to 2,266.
Traders were buzzing about Microsoft’s admission that it would re-open talks with Yahoo, but only if less-than-subtle co-conspirator Carl Icahn can manage to unseat the Yahoo board of directors. Icahn, the famed corporate raider, owns a big chunk of Yahoo stock and is using his leverage to wage a proxy fight against the Yahoo board to replace it with one that’s more to his liking.
The statement from Microsoft drove Yahoo’s stock up $1.84 in Monday trading, demonstrating that confidence is growing among investors that a Microsoft-Yahoo deal can actually get done.
Reportedly, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer has been engaged in talks with Icahn over the past several weeks. In an official statement from Microsoft the company announced that it would be interested in pursuing Yahoo again if Icahn is successful in his bid to overhaul Yahoo's board of directors – specifically during the company's annual shareholder meeting on August 1. In a dispatch from Reuters last week, doubt was raised on whether Icahn had the number of votes he needed to unseat the board – many of whom remain loyal to Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang, who’s reputation has taken a hit during the Yahoo-Microsoft dalliance. Critics say that Chang should have jumped all over the $31 per share offer for Yahoo, especially since the stock has dropped significantly in the weeks following the collapse of the deal. That was $40 billion on the table that Yang walked away from, and Icahn and a big investors have a big problem with that.
So Icahn wrote a letter to the Yahoo board, putting them on notice. Citing the failure of the board to green-light the Microsoft deal, Icahn also took issue with key Yahoo's executive departures in recent months, the failure (in his view) of the current board to oust Yahoo co-founder and CEO Jerry Yang, Google's gains in search at Yahoo's expense, and Yahoo's board itself and their $10,000 weekly paychecks.
More to the point, Icahn says that his new board will immediately seek to oust Yang and replace him with a CEO with more experience, Icahn writes. Then he’ll set his sights on the Yahoo board, with the intent to restructure it to okay the Microsoft deal.
"Jerry Yang and the current board of Yahoo! will not be able to "botch up" a negotiation with Microsoft again, simply because they will not have the opportunity," he writes. "It is time for a change."
Obviously, Yahoo and Yang take issue with that. In yet another letter, this one from Yang, the company is open to getting back to the bargaining table with Microsoft – but not the way Icahn wants it to go. Says Yahoo and Yang, "(The Icahn strategy) would not lead to an outcome in the best interests of Yahoo's stockholders. If Microsoft and Mr. Ballmer really want to purchase Yahoo, we again invite them to make a proposal immediately."
If Icahn gets his way, then look for a Yahoo-Microsoft deal. The way that Yahoo's stock is going, more people are betting on that outcome than not.