Rumors that Microsoft might buy aging search site/top-tier sports-news outlet Yahoo are nothing new. A new agreement signed by both companies, however, might be the most significant clue yet that those rumors are true.
The New York Timesreports that the Microsoft and Yahoo have signed a non-disclosure agreement, which will give Microsoft greater access to Yahoo's financial documents.
Behind the broad interest in Yahoo is what investors believe is a trove of riches that could be unlocked by providing stronger management. The Yahoo of today is in a weaker position than in 2008, having fallen behind Google and newer Internet players like Facebook. But Yahoo remains a formidable destination, with its news site along attracting 81.2 million unique visitors in August.
By signing the nondisclosure pact, Microsoft will get a closer look at Yahoo's books. This time around, however, it is unlikely to pursue its own takeover attempt. Instead, it may aid others.
Aiding others in the purchase of Yahoo may indeed be what Microsoft is after in this case. In 2008 Microsoft had looked to purchase Yahoo outright for about $45 billion. These days, however, a pair of other investors--Silver Lake and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board--are looking to pony up a large portion of the cash, leaving Microsoft to simply invest along side the companies while letting Sliver Lake and CPPIB to run the day-to-day operations of Yahoo.
Of course all this news is still just rumors at this point. But it seems clear that Yahoo is on the market and that Microsoft has both the means and the inclination to be part of whatever group buys it.