Yahoo: Staying alive

October 19, 2011: 1:43 PM ET

Investors think Yahoo is that much more ripe for a sale after another down quarter.

By Dan Mitchell, contributor

FORTUNE -- Apple's (AAPL) shares rose on Wednesday afternoon, but they had been down for most of the day because the company's 54 percent rise in fourth-quarter profits didn't meet analyst expectations. Yahoo (YHOO), meanwhile, reported that revenues and profits continued to fall -- and its shares are way up.

"The company didn't fall apart, Jordan Rohan, an analyst at Stifel Nicolaus & Co., told Bloomberg News by way of explaining the Yahoo spike. "Almost by definition that was greater than expected." This "not falling apart" achievement has sent Yahoo shares up by more than 4%, making up a good chunk of the stock's recent losses: over the year before Wednesday, it had fallen 7%.

Shares are up because, by not falling apart, Yahoo has shown that it is still saleable, even in this relatively dry M&A landscape. In some areas, such as traffic to media sites, the business has improved. It might even draw a halfway decent premium.

One possible acquirer is Microsoft (MSFT). That company's CEO, Steve Ballmer, spent part of Tuesday expressing relief that he didn't acquire Yahoo in 2008, when Yahoo didn't accept Microsoft's offer of $47.5 billion. "Sometimes you're lucky," Ballmer said during the Web 2.0 conference in San Francisco. The offer was made in February of that year, when nobody knew how bad things were going to get the following fall. "Putting everything else aside, the market really kind of fell apart," Ballmer said.

These remarks have been interpreted as a slam against Yahoo, but they're really not. Ballmer's right: Given what happened in the markets, it would have been a ridiculously pricey deal, even if Yahoo were doing better. That company's market cap is now at $20.33 billion. It seems unlikely that the remarks will have any effect on possible negotiations between the companies. Yahoo pretty much has to take whatever it can get at this point.

One bright spot in Yahoo's results was Asia. While sales in the Americas were falling 12%, sales in Asia rose by 20%. That could play into negotiations with another suitor: China's Alibaba Group, of which Yahoo is the largest shareholder. Another scenario has Yahoo being acquired by a one group of private equity firms or another.

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