What's the difference between Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) and Greece? No, really. I'm asking.
Both Yahoo and Greece have been going through long, drawn-out death throes, fueled by the fact that foreigners own them but (by law) can't really control them. Neither Yahoo nor Greece seems capable of creating growth organically. Neither has had a government that seemed capable of grasping the reality of their situation. Yes, the Greek story is about debt and that of Yahoo about equity. But aren't the patterns similar?
Yesterday's board resignations at Yahoo read a lot like last year's replacement of Greek PM Georges Papandreou. Papa was sort of the Jerry Yang of Greece. His grandfather was Prime Minister three times and he himself came back to the country only after the re-birth of democracy in 1974.
The technocrats Scott Thompson (as Lucas Papademos) have come by way of IBM (Alfred Amoroso is an alum) and eBay (Maynard Webb was COO). They are to sign off on whatever sort of financial engineering Thompson can manage.
What he's trying to create is the sale of Yahoo's Chinese and Japanese assets on terms so generous that the U.S. assets have a way forward. Just as the Greeks probably made a mistake in grabbing their new technocrats from government and academia, so too has Thompson erred in grabbing U.S. operating guys. He should have recruited someone from Asia, maybe even appointed Alibaba head Jack Ma to the board, through a surrogate based near Yahoo's headquarters.
What Thompson's team is fiddling around with are ideas centered on transactions, auctions and cloud. The idea is that the cash generated through the Asian asset sales could be plowed into making something out of Yahoo's current operations, with maybe a "special dividend" to keep the shareholders happy.
This plan, too, sounds Greek to me, some token down-payment on austerity while the old ways go merrily on.
What Yahoo needs is a new strategy that advances the cause of both Softbank (OTCPK:SFTBF) and Alibaba (OTC:ALBCF), the two companies it has stakes in, bringing the best of what they have to the U.S., and can rebuild the global brand. That would include payment technology, the ability to, say, buy Chinese goods from your own PC, perhaps the ability to buy in big lots through auctions that would get Alibaba's Chinese sellers the best possible price.
The rest of the money could go into expanding data centers, through a joint venture, so that the combined company becomes a real competitor to Amazon's (NASDAQ:AMZN) AWS and Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) cloud services, starting in Asia.
Everything else that Yahoo owns - mail, forums, news, etc. - is me-too stuff that can either be sold or closed. Auctioned off, as it were. At the end of the day, what Yahoo and Greece both need is not more austerity. Not the sale of assets and a stripping of the shell, but a growth strategy that's credible, with the resources to execute it.
Don't hold your breath waiting.
Disclosure: I am long GOOG, AMZN.