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Yahoo's suitors: The good, the bad, the ugly

October 24, 2011: 10:47 AM ET

The question isn't who is exploring a Yahoo deal, it's who isn't. Here's a rundown of the latest rumors, and what does and doesn't work about their potential deals with the struggling company.

yahooFORTUNE -- While Jerry Yang may not believe that Yahoo is on the auction block, the Wall Street Journal is full of reports that there are companies and private equity firms preparing to swallow up the battered, bruised, rudderless, headless web portal that he founded (and will likely have to be pried from his cold, dead hands.)

The newspaper says Google has spoken with two mystery private equity firms about buying Yahoo's core business. At a conference hosted by All Things D last week, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma said that he was interested in Yahoo. And the WSJ reports that Microsoft is looking into a bid for Yahoo with Silver Lake and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

What would a Yahoo deal mean for each of these groups? Here's a look at the options.

Google

The Good: Larry Page and crew might be able to solve Yahoo's ad revenue problem. The search giant has found a way to monetize the growing demand for online advertising online and on mobile phones; and it recently beat quarterly revenue and profit estimates. The phenomenal growth of Google+ users means that the company might be able to get Yahoo into the social networking world as well. As the WSJ notes, Google (GOOG) would then have access to Yahoo's longstanding relationships with "so-called premium-content publishers like ABC News." A deal would give Google much more control over ad pricing and make life much harder for other search businesses, like Microsoft's Bing.
The Bad: Can you say, antitrust issues?

Alibaba

The Good: The two companies already have a longstanding relationship. Yahoo bought about 40% of Alibaba for $1 billion, and Alibaba runs Yahoo's China operations. Alibaba is in a great position to turn Yahoo (YHOO) into a powerhouse in China; and it could help Yahoo get into the online retailing game, given that Alibaba is already China's biggest online shopping site. A deal would also allow Alibaba to keep up with Chinese competitors Baidu (BIDU) and Tencent, which have already made acquisitions outside of China.
The bad: Try imagining U.S. politicians and regulators allowing a Chinese company to buy a website that includes the email accounts and personal data of hundreds of thousands of U.S. citizens.

Microsoft

The Good: Microsoft could get all of the things it wanted from Yahoo when it offered to buy the company in 2008, but at a 45% discount to its original offer of $44.6 billion. A purchase would protect the search and online ad partnerships it already has with Yahoo. And Yahoo's 700 million users around the globe could help Microsoft (MSFT) expand use of online properties like Bing, which has greatly improved, and give it more leverage in the online advertising market.
The Bad: Would Microsoft still be willing to overpay?

What do you think? Which, if any, of these potential bidders should get Yahoo? Who will, deserving or not, actually buy the company? Will whoever buys Yahoo build a special office for Jerry Yang that is designed to look just like the world did back in 1995?

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About This Author
Katie Benner
Katie Benner
Writer, Fortune

Katie Benner joined Fortune in October 2006. As a writer for the magazine and the website, she focuses on Wall Street and the economy. Prior to joining Fortune, Benner worked at TheStreet.com, CNNMoney, and as a freelancer in Beijing for China International Business, the South China Morning Post, and as a columnist for Beijing Review. She has a B.A. in English from Bowdoin College.

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