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Yahoo might sell its hallmark services — but would it find a bidder?
The tech company told investors Tuesday it would pursue a reverse spinoff, selling its core business while leaving shareholders' stake in more-valuable Asian assets — Alibaba and Yahoo Japan — intact. But some analysts are skeptical of the plan as Yahoo's business struggles to gain traction against bigger competitors.
"YHOO is embarking on yet another turnaround plan," wrote Macquarie Capital analyst Ben Schachter in a Wednesday research note. "Given that we have covered the stock for 15+ years now, let's just say that we are not going to give them the benefit of the doubt on this one."
As Yahoo simplifies its focus to mobile search, Tumblr and a few key content verticals, is the leaner business aiming at a certain kind of buyer? CEO Marissa Mayer declined to share her speculation, when she appeared Wednesday on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street."
"We won't be commenting on the exploration of strategic alternatives until and unless we reach an option that we've agreed on," Mayer said. "But I would say on the whole, our focus here is to maximize the tremendous potential that we see at Yahoo."
Here are some of Mayer's options:
Mobile search was a hot topic in Monday night's conference call, garnering no fewer than 22 mentions, according to Seeking Alpha conference call transcripts. It's a business that's usually monetized through advertising.
Mayer said she believes Yahoo is now in a position of strength after building mobile operations with 600 million monthly users and a billion-dollar advertising business.
"We have our new forms of advertising that we have been focused on — mobile, video, native and social that totaled $1.6 billion of GAAP revenue last year," Mayer told CNBC. "And those are really forward-leaning forms of advertising that didn't exist in the company three or four years ago."
Could a telecom company or perhaps a big data firm benefit from Yahoo's search and advertising business?
"The most obvious acquirer would be other ad-centric businesses looking to beef up their scale," said Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research. "Verizon seems one of the more obvious ones given its previous acquisition of AOL and its efforts to build a broad ad network and ad tech capability."
That could also take the form of what Mayer has called "strategic alternatives" to the reverse spin, like a pipe deal, another expert told CNBC.
"Something we've called for a long time is they could pursue basically like a pipe deal, a strategic investment from another partner into Yahoo," Eric Jackson, managing director of SpringOwl Asset Management, said Tuesday on CNBC's "Closing Bell." "This is kind of like what we saw with the rumor yesterday in Twitter that sent the shares higher. And so, we would be supportive of something like that if it was a Liberty Media or a Verizon or an AT&T coming in. "
Schachter writes that while Yahoo's mobile monetization was up 36 percent year over year in 2015, it might be difficult for Yahoo to gain or maintain share, especially when just days ago, behemoths Facebook and Google showed investors they can do just that, Victor Anthony, Internet media equity research at Axiom Capital Management, told CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Wednesday. Verizon and AT&T both declined to comment to CNBC.
Mayer reiterated her content strategy to CNBC on Wednesday, saying that Yahoo will home in on four verticals — news, finance, sports and lifestyle. Perhaps in an era where "content is king," there's a company that could benefit from these four in particular?
"Apple has used quite a bit of Yahoo content in various iOS services including weather and stocks in the past and could potentially use some of the content to beef up things like Apple News," Dawson said. "But it would come with a lot of baggage they wouldn't want. And it would be unlike Apple to acquire a company with such a negative trajectory. "
IAC/InterActive Corp, the parent company of sites like Ask.com and Investopedia, might be eyeing Yahoo, Anthony said. But its chairman, Barry Diller, is only interested in parts of the business, Anthony said. (Neither Apple nor IAC responded to requests for comment.)
Fantasy sports is another area where Yahoo has been lauded, but it's yet unclear how major daily competitors like FanDuel and DraftKings could benefit with their resources tied up in a legal brouhaha.
Ultimately, this might be a company that needs to be removed from the public eye to complete its turnaround, Anthony said.
"It probably needs to be part of a larger organization that can invest freely in some of the key assets within that business," he said.
Top tech investor Paul Meeks told "Squawk Box" on Wednesday, that might be in the form of an offer from private equity, since he doesn't see obvious candidates — other technology companies like Microsoft or Alibaba — as interested. Ivan Feinseth of Tigress Financial Partners, also on "Squawk Box," suggested Bain or TPG might be potential buyers.
"You can't grow a technology company to success by cutting costs [as Yahoo is]," Meeks said.
Alibaba, TPG and Microsoft declined to comment. The other companies and firms mentioned did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Disclosures: CNBC has a content-sharing partnership with Yahoo's finance site. CNBC parent Comcast and NBC Sports are investors in FanDuel.
— CNBC's Tom DiChristopher and Josh Lipton contributed to this report.