-by Thomas Rasmussen
Despite its stock trading near a five-year low and plans to cut 10% of its workforce, eBay managed to go shopping last week, picking up a pair of companies for a total of $1.3bn. The auction giant spent $945m on Bill Me Later, an online payment processor popular among big-ticket retailers, and $390m on Danish classifieds giant Den Bla Avis. The acquisitions mark a return by eBay’s recently appointed CEO John Donahoe to a focus on the company’s core operations. It also brings into sharper relief the largest strategic misstep by Donahoe’s predecessor Meg Whitman: the purchase of Skype. We believe that will soon be remedied, with the newly refocused eBay divesting its communications division.
It’s clear why eBay would want to return to its roots, and why the Bill Me Later acquisition makes a lot of sense. (The purchase of Den Bla Avis is another step in the company’s international expansion strategy.) Bill Me Later is a complementary acquisition to eBay’s PayPal payments division, which unlike the Skype acquisition has paid off handsomely. The payments segment now represents more than 25% of total revenue, or $2.2bn for the past 12 months, while Skype only brought in about $475m, or roughly 6% of total revenue. (Remember that eBay paid just $1.5bn for PayPal but handed over $2.5bn for Skype.) So who might want to pick up the Skype business?
Just because eBay has struggled to realize a return on its acquisition of Skype doesn’t mean another owner, particularly one focused on communications, couldn’t do well with the property. With about 340 million registered users, Skype is the undisputed leader in VoIP. That commanding market share is likely to attract attention from the existing telcos. It is particularly enticing once you factor in what is happening in the mobile space right now and Skype’s position to dominate mobile VoIP. So far, the wireless telcos have been fighting to keep Wi-Fi, VoIP and other services they do not control or profit from off their handsets. This is a battle they are quickly losing (case in point: Android, BlackBerry and iPhone). Much in the same way that the legacy telcos were quick to adopt wireless technology when it was still in its infancy rather than cling to the wires, it makes sense to try to profit from the trend rather than fight it. Another likely bidder for Skype is Nokia, which has been an avid acquirer of mobile content in its bid to move away from strictly hardware. In addition, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo might consider picking up Skype, since all three of these companies have used acquisitions to enter the emerging mobile communications market.
Performance of select eBay acquisitions
Source: The 451 M&A KnowledgeBase