Shares of eBay (EBAY 1.79%) surged nearly 9% late Tuesday after The Wall Street Journal reported that the online marketplace specialist has received a takeover offer from the New York Stock Exchange parent Intercontinental Exchange (ICE 2.86%).
Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal says Intercontinental Exchange recently made an offer valuing eBay "at more than $30 billion" -- a healthy premium given its roughly $28 billion market capitalization before the news broke. This would almost certainly be a dilutive cash-and-stock deal considering Intercontinental Exchange's market cap stood at "just" $55 billion this morning, which also explains why its shares simultaneously fell around 7.5% this afternoon.
At the same time, the Journal's sources noted this isn't the first time ICE has approached eBay proposing they combine forces. But the report also cautioned that the two companies are not holding formal negotiations at this time, and there's no guarantee a deal will be made.
eBay only just released slightly better-than-expected fourth-quarter 2019 results last week. But the stock slumped as the market reacted to eBay's underwhelming guidance, which called for flat organic revenue growth in the seasonally slow first quarter and only modest organic growth of 1% to 3% for the coming year.
The Journal added that Intercontinental Exchange is primarily eyeing eBay's core marketplace operations, which served 183 million active buyers last quarter (up 2% year over year) and represented around $2.2 billion of eBay's roughly $2.8 billion in total fourth-quarter revenue.
Intercontinental Exchange is not interested, however, in purchasing eBay's noncore businesses. To that end, eBay only recently agreed to sell its StubHub subsidiary in a deal worth just over $4 billion last quarter after a monthslong strategic review process. That transaction should close by the end of the (current) first quarter of 2020.
And just this morning, activist investor Starboard Value issued a letter ramping up pressure on the company to follow by divesting its classifieds segment -- a move that some industry watchers estimate could fetch as much as $10 billion.
For what it's worth, during last week's quarterly conference call, eBay management insisted that it will continue to prioritize shareholder value creation as it weighs the future of both the core marketplace business and classifieds. But interim CEO Scott Schenkel pledged to provide an update around the middle of this year:
At this point, I would not exclude any option. Although it's unlikely that we would pursue an option of divesting platform by platform, which a lot of people have reached out on that. That's not really in our ... best interest or in line with maximizing shareholder value creation. But it's completely doable, and we're looking at all those options.
In the end, it's unclear exactly how much ICE is willing to pay to bring eBay's marketplace under its wing. But while it might be tempting to buy this tech stock now given the prospect of a juicy takeover premium, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind investors that such acquisitions should not represent a central piece of any bullish investment thesis. Rather, I think most shareholders would do well to focus first on eBay's progress returning its core business to sustained, profitable growth.