Today: Rumors fuel trading in tech stocks, as Zynga and Yelp rise on speculation of Yahoo's (YHOO) interest and Apple (AAPL) gets a kick from reports of coming cash returns, helping the Dow to a seventh straight daily increase.
Will Yahoo buy Zynga? Probably not, but S.F. firm's stock price still spikes
Zynga popped higher Monday after an analyst reported that Yahoo could have interest in acquiring the San Francisco online-gaming company, but even the analyst note that sparked the rumors said that the likelihood of Yahoo making the move was unlikely, with another S.F. social company more likely: Yelp.
Rumors of a major Yahoo acquisition have been percolating since the end of last week, when AllThingsD reporter Kara Swisher -- a reliable source on all things Yahoo -- reported that the Sunnyvale company's lead mergers and acquisitions executive told a large gathering of employees that Yahoo is working on two "significant" acquisitions and about a half-dozen smaller ones.
Yahoo has already completed a couple of small "acqui-hires" of mobile companies since CEO Marissa Mayer took over, as the former Google (GOOG) executive looks to boost the company's workforce in that area. However, Swisher's report seemed to hint at a larger scope for Yahoo, which has plenty of cash on hand after selling half of its stake in Chinese Internet giant Alibaba, which announced a new CEO on Monday.
Immediately, speculation began on what companies Yahoo might be working on a deal with, as even Swisher mentioned the possibility of social-networking companies such as Pinterest, Quora and Tumblr. The real buzz began Monday morning, though, as Wunderlich Securities analyst Blake Harper mentioned Zynga as a possible target.
Harper focused on companies that would cost Yahoo $1 billion or more, and mentioned Zynga as an interesting possibility. Harper noted, however, that Zynga's market value is more $3 billion, a lot of cash for Yahoo even with the full coffers after the Alibaba deal.
Zynga's valuation grew even more after the analyst report Monday morning, with shares touching $4 for the first time since July 25 before closing at $3.93, a daily increase of 10.1 percent. After Monday's growth, Zynga has a market capitalization -- the total worth of all its shares -- of about $3.1 billion, and CEO Mark Pincus, who has never given any indication he would look to sell the company, would be likely to turn down any offers after enthusiasm grew thanks to online gambling barreling toward legalization.
Harper said the more likely target for Yahoo would be Yelp, the San Francisco consumer-reviews website that went public not long after Zynga. Though the company has managed to avoid Zynga's doldrums on the public markets -- Yelp sold IPO shares at $15 and shares have never fallen lower than $14.10, while Zynga's $10 IPO price preceded a fall to as low as $2.09 -- it still has an overall value about half of Zynga's, at $1.6 billion. That price includes a solid 6.6 percent gain Friday, when talk of a possible Yahoo acquisition first began; Yelp shares gained another 0.5 percent to close Monday at $25.13.
The issue with all of these companies is that Yahoo is unlikely to reap enough of a reward on the price to make it worth their while, and a drastic account-emptying move could anger longtime shareholders who are finally optimistic as the stock rises to levels unseen since 2008.
If Yahoo were to go after a large-cap company like Yelp or Zynga, it would more likely be a company mentioned by both Swisher and Harper: Millennial Media. The Baltimore mobile-advertising company had the second largest market share of the mobile advertising market as recently as 2011, with IDC reporting at the time that it expected the company to continue to grow. Millennial Media also gained Monday, increasing 1.3 percent to $8.45, giving it a market cap far below the two Silicon Valley companies with more name recognition for consumers, at $669.1 million.
Other companies mentioned as possible Yahoo targets include Yelp rival OpenTable, Foursquare, Hulu and Flipboard, a successful version of Yahoo's failed Livestand app. Another similar company, San Francisco-based Pulse, may have been a Yahoo target but is more likely getting snapped up by LinkedIn, Swisher reported Monday.
Yahoo shares did not receive a speculation bounce Monday, declining 1.3 percent to $22.60; the stock hit a 52-week high of $23.09 last week.
Apple stock spikes late on rumor, but new Samsung Galaxy phone looms
Apple stock also received a rumor-fueled bump Monday, as Howard Ward -- who has heavy investments in Apple through Gamco Investors -- told Bloomberg News that the Cupertino company would provide stockholders with a plan to return some of its cash to them by next month.
"We're going to get an announcement from the company as to how they intend to reallocate some of their cash," Ward said, adding, "They will put a floor under their stock at a higher price than it is today."
While Gamco's chief investment officer did not cite a source for the information, the stock still spiked immediately after his statements were transmitted on Bloomberg radio and news terminals, with Apple moving from a loss on the day to a gain of 1.4 percent, at $437.87. Apple's intent to push some stock back to investors has been a hot topic since investor David Einhorn successfully stopped a shareholder vote to limit the issuance of preferred shares.
The news for Apple was as negative as its stock movement before the news bit that sent its shares higher, as analysts said Monday morning that Apple's manufacturing partners were not very active in February, signaling the drawback in production for Apple that was forecast earlier.
Apple bull Brian White, an analyst at Topeka Capital, said Monday that his measure of activity on suppliers of components to Apple "delivered the worst February we have on record." That is similar to a note from Baird Capital analyst William Power, who said that his checks show Apple ordered fewer semiconductors than the consensus estimate for iPhone and iPad sales would necessitate.
The most dire news for Apple is its chief rival's newest offering, which The Wall Street Journal reported will be unveiled this Thursday. Samsung is Apple's main challenger for smartphone supremacy in the U.S. and the leader worldwide thanks to the success of its Galaxy-branded line of tablets and smartphones, which has led to a brawl of a patent lawsuit claiming the Korean company's products copied the iPad and iPhone.
Dow hits another record, S&P nears its all-time high
Apple's late spike helped the Standard & Poor's 500 and Nasdaq provide positive returns Monday, as the S&P closed just nine points shy of its all-time high. The Dow Jones industrial average also gained, establishing another record high with its seventh consecutive positive session, as all three major U.S. indexes gained 0.25 to 0.35 percent.
Silicon Valley stocks were more successful Monday, as the SV150 index advanced by 0.5 percent with help from Apple and Zynga, as well as gains in large-cap stocks such as Google (up 0.4 percent), Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) (up 0.8 percent), Oracle (ORCL) (up 0.5 percent) and Intel (INTC) (up 0.5 percent). Solar stocks also enjoyed a strong showing, with SunPower (SPWRA) gaining 1.7 percent and SolarCity increasing 3.9 percent.
On the negative side, Intuit (INTU) fell 1.8 percent after the state of Minnesota told residents not to use the Mountain View company's software to file state tax returns, and Netflix (NFLX) declined 2.3 percent.
Silicon Valley tech stocks
The tech-heavy Nasdaq composite index: Up 8.5, or 0.26 percent, to 3,252.87
The blue chip Dow Jones industrial average: Up 50.22, or 0.35 percent, to 14,447.29
And the widely watched Standard & Poor's 500 index: Up 5.04, or 0.32 percent, to 1,556.22
Check in weekday afternoons for the 60-Second Business Break, a summary of news from Mercury News staff writers, The Associated Press, Bloomberg News and other wire services. Contact Jeremy C. Owens at 408-920-5876; follow him at Twitter.com/mercbizbreak.