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Fireworks not likely at Yahoo meeting

2008.08.02

Yahoo's shareholders meeting — which once looked as if it would be a proxy showdown — is shaping up as a non-event.

Now that the Internet icon has settled its dispute with activist investor Carl Icahn — he and two supporters will be named to an expanded 11-member board — little drama is expected Friday.

Instead, Yahoo (YHOO) is expected to vote on stockholder proposals and take questions.

"There are not going to be the fireworks that some had expected," says Darren Chervitz, co-portfolio manager of Jacob Internet fund, which owns 75,000 Yahoo shares. "The big dog has been mollified."

Icahn, who says he is not attending the meeting, threatened in May to displace Yahoo's board with his own slate of directors after Yahoo repeatedly spurned takeover bids from Microsoft (MSFT), including one for $47.5 billion.

The new board members will be named by Aug. 15, Yahoo Chairman Roy Bostock told USA TODAY last week.

"Certainly, the settlement takes the tension away," he said. "I look forward to (Icahn's) participation."

What is less clear are Microsoft's intentions.

In a meeting with analysts last month, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said Microsoft ceased its pursuit of Yahoo "for now." Microsoft, which broke off negotiations with Yahoo after its latest bid was rejected in mid-July, had no further comment.

In the past few months, Microsoft has said Yahoo has shown no interest in a deal — an allegation Yahoo disputes.

"Given the erratic behavior of Microsoft, with its constantly changing terms and scope of deal, I wouldn't predict anything," Bostock said.

"There has been uncertainty," Yahoo CEO Jerry Yang said in a separate interview last week. "But there is clarity after settling the proxy contest. We are getting a sense that our company is back on track."

Yahoo signed a search-ad deal with rival Google that could bring in up to $8 billion over 10 years. It has struck up business partnerships with Walmart.com and others. And it has extended the reach of its ad network.

But that hasn't silenced critics of Yang, who co-founded Yahoo in 1994 and took over as CEO in June 2007 to right the struggling company.

Icahn and others blame him for not consummating a deal with Microsoft while Yahoo's stock sputtered during a slowing economy.

"Yahoo and Microsoft missed out on helping each other a great deal," Chervitz says.

Yang was philosophical about his situation. "Selling (Yahoo) is fine, but at the same time, we are trying to negotiate a good deal for shareholders," he said. "The board has to look out for what is right for the company."

Yahoo shares dipped 1% to $19.89 in trading Thursday.

 

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