One of the biggest names in tech is apparently for sale and nobody seems to care. The Wall Street Journal reported that Yahoo’s (NASDAQ: YHOO) board of directors is taking bids on all of the iconic search engine’s assets.
The sale is apparently designed to keep the hedge fund Starboard Value, which owns a stake in Yahoo, from taking over the company and firing the management. Hedge funds, rival tech titans, and others have until April 11 to submit preliminary bids for Yahoo’s assets. Sadly enough, the most profitable of those assets could be a stake in another company, Alibaba Group Holding (NYSE: BABA).
Naturally enough, a lot of people will be surprised that Yahoo is still around. After all, most of us haven’t heard about it or used Yahoo in years. Value investors will be wondering if Yahoo is a good buy or perhaps even a value investment because its shares were trading at $36.32 (€32.18) apiece on March 29, 2016.
Yahoo is in Very Sorry Shape
The answer to that question is no because of some of the numbers that Yahoo posted on Dec. 31, 2015. The most astound of these was a profit margin of -348.3%. No, I’m not making this up, Yahoo was losing -348.3% of its profits. That gave the company a net income of -$4.359 billion (-€3.86 billion) for the fourth quarter of 2015.
Another even more bothersome number was the cash from operations for the fourth quarter, which was -$2.383 billion (-€2.11 billion). It looks as if Yahoo is losing money by just staying in operation; it might actually be worth more for its assets, which are theoretically worth around $45.2 billion (€40.05 billion) than its business, which seems to be what the board thinks.
It is easy to see why Starboard Value wants to fire everybody at Yahoo with numbers like that. There seems to be no real hope of turnaround for Yahoo at this point. Yet it still seems to have some value: Yahoo had $5.857 billion (€5.19 billion) in cash and short-term investments on Dec. 31, 2015.
Has Google Finally Killed Yahoo?
That figure actually exceeded Yahoo’s revenues, which were $4.968 billion (€4.4 billion) on Dec. 31, 2015. The revenues are what shows how truly irrelevant Yahoo has become. On the same day Alphabet (NASDAQ: GOOGL), the company formerly known as Google, reported revenues of $74.99 billion (€66.44 billion), Facebook (NASDAQ: FB) reported revenues of $17.93 billion (€15.89 billion), or more than three times Yahoo’s value, at the same time.
The real telling figure though is the amount of revenue increase. Alphabet’s revenue increased by $8.99 billion (€7.96 billion) in 2015, while Facebook’s revenue increased by $5.46 billion (€4.84 billion) during the same period. The amount of Facebook’s revenue growth actually exceeded the value of all Yahoo’s revenue, which was $4.968 billion (€4.4 billion).
To be fair, Yahoo’s revenue growth was that bad. It added $350 million (€310.09 million) worth of revenue, which for almost any other company, would be great. Yet that obviously is not good enough for a tech company these days, especially a search engine.
It looks as if investors simply do not tolerate a search engine, or even a social media company, that does not deliver the kind of incredible revenue growth that Alphabet and Facebook can deliver. Yahoo’s real problem could be that it has an impossible benchmark to live up to.
To make matters worse, it has to compete directly with Alphabet, which seems to be impossible. One has to wonder if Google has achieved a practical monopoly in search that nobody can crack.
Who Can Survive in Silicon Valley?
Yahoo’s fate should be a cautionary tale for tech investors, Silicon Valley could be just too competitive an environment for small or moderately-sized companies, even ones with very strong brands. Yahoo’s collapse should show us that even the strongest tech brands can fall and become irrelevant.
This means the major question remaining about Yahoo is who would buy it. I imagine Alphabet will stay away for fear of antitrust regulators, but there are plenty of other suitors out there. Alibaba leads the list, but there are other players interested in strengthening their position in search, and some obvious names are Amazon (NASAQ: AMZN), Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT), and Facebook.
It looks as if Yahoo is no longer relevant in today’s world. The tech pioneer’s inability to compete shows just how brutal the field has become and how unstable it truly is. One has to wonder long other niche tech players, such as LinkedIn (NYSE: LNKD) and Twitter (NYE: TWTR), can stay around if a company with the history, resources, and cash that Yahoo could bring to the table could not survive.