Yahoo CEO: Active talks going on with Alibaba over Alipay

However, Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz declined to provide details about the negotiations

Yahoo CEO Carol Bartz and co-founder Jerry Yang opened the company's investor meeting on Wednesday addressing head on the company's tussle with Alibaba Group over the latter's decision to spin off its online payment unit Alipay.

Yahoo, which has said it wasn't informed about the spin-off, is now actively engaged in discussions with Alibaba Group to make sure Yahoo is "properly compensated" for the divestiture, Bartz said.

However, Yang and Bartz said that all parties have agreed not to discuss the details of the ongoing conversations. "We believe we're making significant progress," she said.

The situation is very complex due to an uncertain and unclear regulatory climate in China regarding online payment companies like Alipay, Yang said.

Also adding to the complexity is the involvement of a number of companies, executives and investors, including Yahoo and Softbank, he said.

Alipay doesn't yet have its license from the Chinese government, and Yahoo and other Alibaba Group investors recognize that it's important for that to happen for the benefit of all involved, they said.

In addition, the Alipay value as a stand-alone operation is currently small, but its value is higher in conjunction with Alibaba Group's Taobao e-commerce site, they said.

"We're working very hard to protect your interests," Bartz told investors. Yahoo holds about a 40 per cent stake in Alibaba Group.

Earlier this month, Yahoo accused Alibaba Group of spinning off Alipay to a Chinese company controlled by Alibaba CEO Jack Ma without Yahoo's knowledge.

Alibaba, however, contested Yahoo's portrayal of the situation, saying that Yahoo's board members were well aware that for Alipay to obtain a license, it needed to be spun off.

Eventually, the companies issued a joint statement saying they were working to draft a solution to the issue. It's not the first time that Alibaba and Yahoo locked horns during Bartz's tenure. Last year, Alibaba blasted Yahoo for supporting Google after Google disclosed it had been hacked from within China.

The Alipay controversy isn't the only one on the table for Bartz as investors convene for this meeting. At the company's first-quarter earnings call in April, Bartz acknowledged that the search partnership she brokered with Microsoft isn't yielding the expected revenue for Yahoo so far.

Leading Yahoo hasn't been an easy task for Bartz since she took over the CEO job in January 2009 from co-founder Jerry Yang. In addition to dealing with the Yahoo internal problems she inherited, she had to face a shrinking online advertising market as a result of the global economic crisis.

Shortly after becoming CEO, she approved a round of layoffs and shook up the company's corporate structure after finding it wasn't conducive to quick and effective decision-making.

She also presided over a revamping of the company's technology back end, designed to bring global consistency and increase the efficacy of the systems that power Yahoo's content management and advertising platforms.

Bartz has been criticized for what some perceive as a talent drain at Yahoo. However, she has also drawn talented executives, like Chief Product Officer Blake Irving and Ross Levinsohn, who last year became executive vice president for the Americas region.

Bartz also has led a charge to streamline and consolidate Yahoo's product roster, shutting down or selling many services and units, including Zimbra and Delicious, in order to focus on core offerings like Yahoo Mail and Messenger, Yahoo Finance and Yahoo Sports.

Most notably, she struck the controversial deal in mid-2009 to partner with Microsoft in search. During the first five years of the 10-year deal, Yahoo agreed to give Microsoft a 12 per cent commission on paid clicks on Yahoo and Yahoo-partner sites. In exchange, Microsoft agreed to take over backend search functions for Yahoo, including web crawling, indexing and ranking.

Since she took over, Yahoo hasn't produced an innovative, blockbuster new service, resorting mostly to integrating its products with popular sites like Facebook and duplicating popular trends.

However, with Irving on board, Yahoo is trying to come up with innovative products as well. Earlier this year, it announced the "digital newstand" Livestand for tablet devices and cell phones.

While the rounds of layoffs under Bartz have attracted much attention, the company had 13,300 employees at the end of 2011's first quarter, just 300 fewer than at the end of 2008.

Company shares, which closed at $12.10 per share on Jan. 13, 2009, her first day as CEO, stood at $16.14 at yesterday's closing.

In her first quarter on board, 2009's first quarter, Yahoo had revenue of $1.58 billion, down 13 per cent year-on-year, while GAAP net income fell 78 per cent to $118 million.

By comparison, in the first quarter of 2011, Yahoo had revenue of $1.21 billion, down 24 per cent year-on-year, while net income fell 28 per cent to $223 million.

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Juan Carlos Perez

IDG News Service
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