I might be in the minority with this view, but I really like Yahoo! (Nasdaq: YHOO ) at these price levels. Now I'm not going to tell you that Yahoo! will ever be a serious threat to Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) again, but I don't think it is even trying to be at this point. In fact, I think the main problem with the company is that no one really knows what it is trying to be. Not current CEO Carol Bartz, previous CEOs Tim Koogle and Terry Semel, or even co-founder Jerry Yang.
Bartz was asked a couple weeks ago at the Web 2.0 Summit just what Yahoo! is. She replied, "Maybe it's taken me two years, but I've got it: content, communications, media, and innovation. I think Yahoo! has always stood for those words. It went off track a bit when people thought it was a search company."
What? Clearly, the issue is still not settled. At least Bartz knows that Yahoo! is not a search company as it has more or less outsourced that business to Microsoft (Nasdaq: MSFT ) . Persistent merger and buyout talk has also made it difficult for the company to maintain focus and direction. The rumors swirling around AOL (NYSE: AOL ) and News Corp (Nasdaq: NWS ) as well as private equity groups like The Blackstone Group (NYSE: BX ) have gotten some speculative investors excited, but any deal seems far-fetched. Remember, it was only a few years ago that Microsoft had offered to buy the company for around double the current stock price at $33 a share.
Although Bartz and her team at Yahoo! don't seem to have a firm grasp on what the main focus of the company should be, it is clear that there are some very valuable franchises within the organization.
Some valuable assets
For example, Yahoo! Sports has become a leader in sports media and is the most visited site in the rapidly growing fantasy sports market. While ESPN may rule the world of sports media, it does not rule the Internet space. The top position belongs to Yahoo! Sports, which controls 20% of all user time spent surfing online sports properties, with more than 30 million unique viewers monthly.
Yahoo! Sports is also able to attract a large global and special event audience. During the 2008 Summer Olympics, Yahoo! Sports was the top Olympics site throughout the event. This is so impressive because Yahoo! had no affiliation with the summer games like NBC does, whose Olympic site Yahoo! outpaced.
Yahoo! Finance has also become a hub for investors that Google has not been able to surpass. In fact, it probably led many readers to this article. In 2009, Yahoo! was drawing more than 17 times as much traffic as Google Finance.
However, perhaps Yahoo!'s most valuable asset is its nearly 40% stake in China's largest electronic commerce company, Alibaba. The company owns Taobao and Alipay, which is China's version of eBay (Nasdaq: EBAY ) and PayPal, among a plethora of other online assets. Analysts who follow the company believe Yahoo!'s stake could be worth at least $11 billion. In addition, the company also has a 34.5% stake in Yahoo! Japan. This stake is worth nearly $7 billion.
Yahoo! became involved with Alibaba in 2005 as a result of Yahoo co-founder Jerry Yang's close personal relationship with Alibaba CEO Jack Ma. Yahoo! acquired its stake for only about $1 million. However, the relationship between the two companies has not been strong after Yang left. Ma has attempted to regain control of Yahoo!'s shares, but Carol Bartz turned him down just recently.
Value is there
The combined value of Yahoo's stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan are valued at about $18 billion, and the company has a market capitalization of $21 billion. In addition, Yahoo! has more than $2.8 billion in cash on its balance sheet, or about $2.16 per share. So the stock price nearly values the company at the price of its cash and these two assets. Throw in Yahoo!'s sports and finance pieces along with the company's other assets, and the stock price looks pretty compelling to me.
I'm hesitant to recommend a company that I believe has a long history of poor management that has added little value for shareholders. However, in this case Yahoo!'s parts looks to be greater than the sum. With a margin of safety provided by some of the company's valuable assets, I would not be afraid to pull the trigger on this historic underperformer.