Yang hits back at Ballmer; mentions antitrust concerns

Summary:That didn't take long. Two days after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent a three-week acquisition ultimatum to Yahoo's board, Yahoo answered with its own letter.

That didn't take long. Two days after Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sent a three-week acquisition ultimatum to Yahoo's board, Yahoo answered with its own letter.

Signed by CEO Jerry Yang and Chairman of Yahoo Board Roy Bostock, the Yahoo letter reiterated that Yahoo feels Microsoft's $44 billion fee is too low. The pair claimed their recently disclosed three-year financial plan demonstrated to shareholders and others that Yahoo is well-positioned for growth -- a view that a number of Wall Street analysts and industry observers have not shared.

"We have continued to make clear that we are not opposed to a transaction with Microsoft if it is in the best interests of our stockholders," Yang and Bostock said.

(If Yahoo's behavior since Microsoft's January 31 bid became public can be considered "non-oppositional," I'd hate to see what Yang would do if he was really dead-set against something. It's no secret how much Yang and many Yahoos hate Microsoft and would do almost anything to avoid Redmond's clutches.)

The part of the new Yahoo letter I found most interesting, though, was the mention of antitrust issues that would arise if the acquisition goes through -- something that neither Microsoft nor Yahoo has spent much time discussing publicly. From the letter:

"As to antitrust, we have discussed with you our concerns. Any transaction between us would result in a thorough regulatory review in multiple jurisdictions. As a follow up to a recent meeting among our respective legal advisors we had on this topic, and at your request, we provided to you on March 28 a list of additional information we would need to further our understanding of the regulatory issues associated with any transaction. To date, you have still not provided any of the requested information."

I wonder what's on that list... Any guesses?

Meanwhile, here's the full text of the Yang/Bostock letter to Ballmer:

Dear Steve:

Our Board has reviewed your most recent letter with regard to the unsolicited proposal you made to acquire Yahoo! on January 31, 2008.

Our Board carefully considered your unsolicited proposal, unanimously concluded that it was not in the best interests of Yahoo! and our stockholders, and rejected it publicly on February 11, 2008. Our Board cited Yahoo!'s global brand, large worldwide audience, significant recent investments in advertising platforms and future growth prospects, free cash flow and earnings potential, as well as its substantial unconsolidated investments, as factors in its decision.

At the same time, we have continued to make clear that we are not opposed to a transaction with Microsoft if it is in the best interests of our stockholders. Our position is simply that any transaction must be at a value that fully reflects the value of Yahoo!, including any strategic benefits to Microsoft, and on terms that provide certainty to our stockholders.

Since disclosing our Board's position with respect to your proposal, we have presented our three-year financial and strategic plan to our stockholders, which supports our Board's determination that your unsolicited proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo!. Those meetings with our stockholders have also provided us an opportunity to hear their views.

We have continued to launch new products and to take actions which leverage our scale, technology, people and platforms as we execute on the strategy we publicly articulated. Today, in fact, we are announcing AMP! from Yahoo!, a new advertising management platform designed to dramatically simplify the process of buying and selling ads online.

Finally, our Board has been actively and expeditiously exploring our strategic alternatives to maximize stockholder value, a process which is ongoing. All of these actions have been driven by our overarching commitment to maximize stockholder value.

Our Board's view of your proposal has not changed. We continue to believe that your proposal is not in the best interests of Yahoo! and our stockholders. Contrary to statements in your letter, stockholders representing a significant portion of our outstanding shares have indicated to us that your proposal substantially undervalues Yahoo!. Furthermore, as a result of the decrease in your own stock price, the value of your proposal today is significantly lower than it was when you made your initial proposal.

In contrast to your assertions about the effect of general economic conditions on our business, Yahoo!'s business forecasts are consistent with what we outlined in our last earnings call. As you know, we recently reaffirmed our Q1 and full year guidance, which is a testament to our ability to perform in line with our expectations despite the current economic environment. In addition, our three-year financial and strategic plan which we have made public demonstrates significant potential upside not previously communicated to the financial markets. This plan has received positive feedback from our stockholders, further strengthening the view that Yahoo! is worth well more as a standalone company than the value offered in your proposal, and would be even more valuable to Microsoft. Your own statements have made clear the strategic importance of Yahoo!'s substantial assets and capabilities to Microsoft.

We regret to say that your letter mischaracterizes the nature of our discussions with you. We have had constructive conversations together regarding a variety of topics, including integration and regulatory issues. Your comment that we have refused to enter into negotiations to conclude an agreement are particularly curious given we have already rejected your initial proposal, nominally $31 per share at the time, for substantially undervaluing Yahoo! and your suggestions in your letter and the media that you are considering lowering the value of your proposal. Moreover, Steve, you personally attended two of these meetings and could have advanced discussions in any way you saw fit.

As to antitrust, we have discussed with you our concerns. Any transaction between us would result in a thorough regulatory review in multiple jurisdictions. As a follow up to a recent meeting among our respective legal advisors we had on this topic, and at your request, we provided to you on March 28 a list of additional information we would need to further our understanding of the regulatory issues associated with any transaction. To date, you have still not provided any of the requested information.

We consider your threat to commence an unsolicited offer and proxy contest to displace our independent Board members to be counterproductive and inconsistent with your stated objective of a friendly transaction. We are confident that our stockholders understand that our independent Board is best positioned to objectively and knowledgeably evaluate our Company's alternatives and to maximize value.

In conclusion, please allow us to restate our position, so there can be no confusion. We are open to all alternatives that maximize stockholder value. To be clear, this includes a transaction with Microsoft if it represents a price that fully recognizes the value of Yahoo! on a standalone basis and to Microsoft, is superior to our other alternatives, and provides certainty of value and certainty of closing. Lastly, we are steadfast in our commitment to choosing a path that maximizes stockholder value and we will not allow you or anyone else to acquire the company for anything less than its full valueVery truly yours,

Roy Bostock Chairman of the Board

Jerry Yang Chief Executive Officer

Topics: Social Enterprise, CXO, Enterprise Software, Legal, Microsoft, Security

About

Mary Jo Foley has covered the tech industry for 30 years for a variety of publications, including ZDNet, eWeek and Baseline. She is the author of Microsoft 2.0: How Microsoft plans to stay relevant in the post-Gates era (John Wiley & Sons, 2008). She also is the cohost of the "Windows Weekly" podcast on the TWiT network. Got a tip? Se... Full Bio

Contact Disclosure

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Related Stories

The best of ZDNet, delivered

You have been successfully signed up. To sign up for more newsletters or to manage your account, visit the Newsletter Subscription Center.
Subscription failed.