July 11, 2019 / 5:03 PM / a month ago

Exclusive: Verizon sought buyers for Yahoo Finance - sources

(Reuters) - Verizon Communications Inc earlier this year looked for buyers for Yahoo Finance, one of the most popular internet destinations for financial news and portfolio management tools, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters this week.

FILE PHOTO - A man stands next to the logo of Verizon at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, February 26, 2019. REUTERS/Sergio Perez

While the U.S. wireless carrier never launched an official sales process, it quietly solicited interest in Yahoo Finance even as it was revamping its media division, previously named Oath and recently renamed Verizon Media.

The company ended its search recently, said the sources, who declined to be named because the talks were private.

Yahoo has emerged as the centerpiece of Verizon Media’s plans to rescue the once-dominant collection of internet assets which has been in decline since the late 2000s.

“We do not comment on rumors and speculation,” Verizon Media said in a statement on Thursday. “Yahoo Finance is integral to Verizon Media’s growth strategy. We continue to invest in the expansion of live programming, audio programming and the recently launched Yahoo Finance Premium product.”

Yahoo and AOL are the two large brands within Verizon Media, which also owns news publication HuffPost, technology news sites Techcrunch and Engadget, as well as social media site Tumblr.

Despite the epic erosion of usage and value of Verizon Media’s businesses, Yahoo Finance has remained a bright spot. It was the most visited site in the business and finance news category in May, beating out Forbes and CNBC, and it has attracted over 100 million global monthly visitors on average this year, according to data from media analytics company comScore.

A separate source with direct knowledge of Verizon’s plans said the company is seeking to acquire more media assets to bolster its portfolio and Yahoo Finance’s business.

The source said Verizon had received unsolicited interest in Yahoo Finance but did not entertain the conversations.

Verizon Media has struggled with declining usage and revenue growth. Last year, Verizon wrote down the value of its media assets by $4.6 billion.

Verizon spent a combined $9.2 billion to buy AOL and Yahoo in 2015 and 2017, respectively. Former Verizon Media Chief Executive Tim Armstrong had explored options for the media group, including buying it out from Verizon, news website The Information reported last year.

Yahoo was a pioneer of the internet era in the 1990s. At its peak, the company’s market value in the late 1990s was more than $125 billion. AOL’s combined market value the day after it announced a $165 billion offer to buy Time Warner in 2000 was over $340 billion.

Walt Piecyk, an analyst who covers Verizon for research firm BTIG, said Verizon is focused on its wireless business and the media division has become an afterthought since Hans Vestberg was named Verizon’s chief executive officer last year.

“Whatever Verizon is able to sell (Yahoo Finance) for will not move the needle for the business,” he said.

It is unclear how much Verizon was hoping to reap from a sale of Yahoo Finance. Other news-publication deals could provide a benchmark for valuation. German digital publisher Axel Springer bought the 88% it did not already own of New York-based news publication Business Insider in 2015, in a deal that valued Business Insider at $442 million.

Last month, Yahoo Finance launched a premium subscription that offers advanced portfolio tools, research reports and investment ideas for $50 per month.

Reporting by Angela Moon and Sheila Dang in New York; Editing by Kenneth Li and Matthew Lewis

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