Yahoo discord heats up

May 6, 2008: 10:15 AM ET

By Scott Moritz

Yahoo (YHOO) chief Jerry Yang has lost a deal and gained some enemies.

Yes, Microsoft (MSFT) walked away from the proposed blockbuster merger - but no, the new enemy is not Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.

Instead, it's Gordon Crawford of Capital Research Global Investors, a holder of 6% of Yahoo's shares.

Crawford voiced his extreme disappointment in Yang in press reports, including a piece in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal taking direct aim at Yang and his hamhanded treatment of the Microsoft offer. "I think he overplayed a weak hand," Crawford told the Journal.

He's not alone. Other Yahoo investors have taken issue with the way Yang tried to hardball his way to a higher bid.

"This $37 price was ridiculous," said one Yahoo investor referring to Yang's deal-breaking counter offer to Ballmer in Seattle on Saturday. "I would have had no problem taking the thing at $31," the investor said.

Yang has since protested that the $37 pitch was merely a starting point to get the talks going. But after three months, two rejections and a ad outsourcing pact with rival Google (GOOG), Microsoft's Ballmer decided to use Yang's starter as an end to the discussions.

The move puts Yang under the spotlight as big investors and small watched Yahoo's value shrink - on Monday, the stock closed 15% below its closing price Friday.

"This is a clear example where the management didn't have the best interest of the shareholders at heart. I think a lot of shareholders would have been very happy to do this deal at $33," said Jacob Internet Fund manager and Yahoo shareholder Darren Chervitz, in Fortune Techland story Monday.

Another big stakeholder, Bill Miller of Legg Mason, whose firm swung to a $256 million loss in the first quarter on bad bets in Countrywide and Bear Stearns, is also feeling the pressure of having more than a 6% position in Yahoo. Miller told Bloomberg that he's holding out hope that Microsoft and Yahoo can rekindle the discussions.

"There's probably a lot of people jumping up and down today,'' Miller told Bloomberg.

He expects Microsoft to come back. "If I'm sitting in their shoes, I'll go away and see what happens," Miller said . "I can come back and the worst case is, I'll pay six months more of my free cash flow."

For Microsoft, while the software giant may have averted overpaying for Yahoo, it hasn't solved the bigger problem: How to compete with Google for the Internet advertising bounty.

Meanwhile, Yang and Yahoo will have a chance to feel some of the investor blowback at the annual shareholder meeting scheduled for July 3.

Observers such as Fortune's Go West columnist Adam Lashinsky ask: "What will happen to Yahoo's board? Will angry shareholders kick out its value-destroying board?"

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