Alibaba CEO ‘interested’ in buying Yahoo!

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Jack Ma, CEO of Chinese web giant Alibaba is reportedly “interested” in buying Yahoo! and claims to have been approached by private equity groups about doing a deal.

According to the Wall Street Journal, Ma made the comments during a recent “China 2.0” event held at Stanford University.

It wasn’t clear, however, whether any formal steps had been taken toward a Yahoo! purchase.

According to the Journal, a spokesperson for Ma refused to elaborate on the comments saying, “they speak for themselves”.

Yahoo! also declined to comment.

Alibaba is 43% — owned by Yahoo! and is considered one of its best assets, but the relationship between the two was strained earlier this year in a dispute over Alibaba’s online payments platform Alipay.

Ma moved Alipay out of the Alibaba group without prior approval from the board of directors, of which Yahoo! is a member. Ma continues to insist that Yahoo! was notified of the transfer of ownership and that his actions complied with the Chinese licensing agreements.

The two eventually reached an agreement in July under which Alibaba Group will “continue to participate in Alipay’s future financial performance, including a future IPO or other liquidity event”.

“Jack has little to lose in making a bid, and perhaps the risks of not being allowed to buy Yahoo could strengthen his personal stock at home amongst his employees, Chinese in general and perhaps also the Chinese government,” Duncan Clark, chairman of BDA China Ltd., a consulting firm that serves companies doing business in China told the Journal.

“Of course, the risks beyond the tactics of dealing with Yahoo shareholders lie in dealing with the U.S. popular psyche, prevailing consumer attitudes towards a Chinese company owning ‘my Yahoo,’ the sensitivity of personal information and associations in the minds of some that any Chinese company has links to the Chinese government.”

Should Ma attempt a buyout of Yahoo!, however, he would probably face close scrutiny from US regulators as the deal would be one of the largest purchases of an US operation by a Chinese company.

Alibaba’s existing relationship with Yahoo! may, however, stand it in good stead.

Ma has previously sought to buy back Yahoo!’s stake in his company.

A number of companies were reportedly interested in buying Yahoo! but Ma’s comments at Stanford are the closest anyone has come to confirming interest.

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