Is Yahoo Setting Itself Up For Sale With Axis?

| About: Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO)

Yahoo (NASDAQ:YHOO) is getting strong reviews for its new Axis browser. The browser is designed around mobile, and delivered first on Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) iOS.

It's not a Chrome-Explorer-Firefox replacement per se, however. For most browser applications it's an add-on, which mainly makes search easier by giving most results in thumbnails (rather than text links).

Economically, it seems to make no sense. Yahoo is taking away ad business from Google (NASDAQ:GOOG), perhaps, but it's not bringing money into its own coffers. [OK, I get it. That was the reason so many companies sponsored the Mozilla Foundation and Firefox -- to take money from Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT).]

But this is not the kind of move a struggling company should be making. A struggling company should be looking to make money for itself, not keep someone else from getting a taste.

Unless, that is, the struggling company in question is positioning itself to be sold.

It would make sense, and Axis is a tell that would tell you who the potential buyers might be. It would be someone in the mobile space. Since Yahoo long-ago outsourced its search to Microsoft that's possible. But Danny Goodwin of Searchenginewatch reports that Yahoo may be about to blow up its Microsoft deal in favor of one with Google.

So here's how shareholders can come out looking good:

  • Sell the rest of the foreign assets for cash or [in the case of Alibaba (OTC:ALBCF) stock in the form of an ADR.

  • Sell the search to Google and, even if you get just a few billion, the shareholders may come out ahead on the current price.

  • Distribute the rest of the company to other content players. Sell the radio network to a radio company. Sell the news portion to a news company. Maybe just sell the whole thing to Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA).

It's also possible that the content assets may be what new CEO Ross Levinsohn is really focused on. The tell here is that he calls Yahoo "a media company," and that he's a media guy. He knows about turning lemons into lemonade -- he bragged on taking the job of buying MySpace for Murdoch (NASDAQ:NWS). ("The kid's got moxie.") He may be hoping to wheel-and-deal those assets into something that makes sense as a media play, while giving the shareholders the quick profit they've been looking for.

But it starts by thinking mobile. Mobile is hot. Mobile is cool. Mobile is now. Maybe Axis is the start of the Yahoo bidding war.

Disclosure: I am long GOOG, MSFT.