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Gobble! some! Yahoo! now! – slurp! the! rest! later!

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More rumours that private equity might be the route for Yahoo!'s buyout surfaced today: a report suggests firms including KKR and TPG Capital are thinking of buying a little slice of Yahoo! in order to slurp the whole thing later.

The firms could buy minority stakes of up to 20 per cent in the troubled web firm and then possibly team up with co-founders Jerry Yang and David Filo, who between them own 9.5 per cent of the company, people with knowledge of the situation told Reuters.

These companies have already signed confidentiality agreements with Yahoo! so they won't be saying anything about it themselves, but the sources say grabbing a morsel now will make it easier to gobble the whole thing later when finance markets open up a bit. While they're waiting for the readies to be ready, a smaller stake could give them a seat on the board.

The prospect of Yahoo!'s co-founders cosying up with some private equity firms to get control of the company is not sitting well with some of the existing investors.

Daniel Loeb, head of investment house Third Point, which is the second largest investor in the web firm, released a letter at the start of the week saying he was "deeply concerned" by reports that private equity firms might get control of Yahoo!

"More troubling are reports that Mr Yang is engaging in one-off discussions with private equity firms, presumably because it is in his best personal interests to do so. The Board and the Strategic Committee should not have permitted Mr Yang to engage in these discussions, particularly given his ineptitude in dealing with the Microsoft negotiations to purchase the Company in 2008,” his letter read.

If this sort of deal went ahead, the risk for the private equity firms involved, and the existing investors, would be that the company would once more be relying on its existing management to turn it around. Essentially, the minority stake buy would give the company money and breathing space to try to change its current losing strategies into winning ones.

The sources also said today that other buyout businesses including Blackstone Group, Providence Equity, Bain Capital and Hellman & Friedman are holding out on signing the keep-schtum contracts because it would limit their ability to partner up with companies like Alibaba Group.

Yahoo! isn't making it easy for any suitor to get close to it by imposing these non-disclosure agreements, which mean once they've thrown their hat in the ring, they're stuck on their own or with whomever they first went in with.

Usually, companies that fancy buying a firm have the opportunity to strike up partnerships if they find they don't like the option of going it alone or it turns out to be too expensive or risky to carry on their own. At other times, one or more partner may decide to opt out while the other is still interested if they can get a new buddy.

With an NDA, once the buyer says they're interested, they can't talk about terms or finances or how Yahoo!'s doing with any potential partners. ®

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