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Yahoo! Under the Big Top

By Rick Munarriz - Updated Apr 5, 2017 at 7:03PM

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An activist investor wants Yahoo! to hand off its search business.

There's a carnival barker born every minute.

It seems as if every few days we find a new voice trying to get the masses excited about paying up to sneak a peek at the freakish sideshow that Yahoo! (NASDAQ:YHOO) has become.

"Step right up," they'll say. "Step right up and catch the greatest show on scorched earth."

The barker this time is Ivory Investment Management, the optimistic bag-holder of 21.4 million shares -- or less than 2% -- of Yahoo!. The firm wants Yahoo! to sell its search business to Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT). Ivory feels that the deal could be worth as much as $15 billion to Yahoo!, which is actually slightly more than the company's current enterprise value.

Microsoft has sworn off buying Yahoo! whole, but has never fully closed the door on snapping up the meandering portal's bread-and-butter search business. How much that would be worth to Microsoft is open to debate. London's The Sunday Times recently speculated that a deal could be worth as much as $20 billion, though that story ultimately had more holes than a miniature-golf course.

So where do we go from here? It seems as if everyone has an opinion on some form of a Microhoo hookup, save for the two parties needed to make it happen.

It certainly makes sense. Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) continues to gain market share at the expense of Yahoo! and Microsoft. As sluggish as Yahoo!'s performance has been in recent years, a deal would more than double Microsoft's online presence. Mr. Softy has also struggled to turn a profit in cyberspace, and that is thankfully not a shortcoming at Yahoo!.

When will the carnival barkers pull up their tent stakes and move on? The chatter is likely to continue until Microsoft or Yahoo! look elsewhere. Combinations with other online traffic heavies like Time Warner's (NYSE:TWX) AOL, News Corp.'s (NYSE:NWS) Fox., or even parent IAC (NASDAQ:IACI) would probably silence the Microhoo buzz, at least long enough to give the digestive process some time.

However, the inevitability of Yahoo! shaking hands in a market-cap-pumping deal is why I predict a rare year of gains for investors, after three years of pain. Even the spectators beneath the freak-show tent need to step out and see the sun sometimes.

Other Microhoo headlines:

Microsoft is an Inside Value recommendation. Google is a Rule Breakers pick. If you've got hunger pangs, a 30-day trial subscription to any of the newsletter services is available to feed your appetite for superior market advice.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz is a fan of Yahoo! and Microsoft but not of bad weddings. He does not own shares in any of the stocks in this story. Rick is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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