China firm in Yahoo takeover speculation

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Alibaba has hired a Washington lobbying firm in a sign the Chinese e-commerce company would be willing to make a bid for all of Yahoo in the event talks to unwind their Asian partnership fail.

Japan’s Softbank, which owns a 30 per cent stake in Alibaba and is a partner in Yahoo Japan, is also listed as an Alibaba affiliate in the disclosure by the lobbying firm, Duberstein. Alibaba’s founder, Jack Ma, said in September he was keen to buy all of Yahoo if the opportunity presented itself.

Hiring a Washington lobbying firm could help Alibaba address any US political opposition to a complete takeover of Yahoo by a company from a country that controls and censors the internet.

Chinese companies, such as telecoms giant Huawei Technologies, have run into opposition when they have tried to buy US assets over the years.

“The national security concern is sometimes just an excuse for commercial concerns for any country, but certainly for the United States,” said Mark Natkin, managing director of Beijing-based consultancy Marbridge Consulting. “I don’t think there should be a big concern (for Alibaba buying Yahoo). Users may share or keep as much data as they like.”

Alibaba, Softbank and Yahoo have been looking to unwind their complex web of relationships. Alibaba retained Duberstein in the fall when it was discussing a proposal with private equity firms to carve up Yahoo, a source said.

While they would jointly make a bid for the whole company, the idea was for the buyout firms to take over Yahoo’s US operations and for Alibaba and Softbank to get the Asian assets.