Will Google Buy PayPal?

Source: Wikimedia Commons (Lee-Sean Huang)
Now that we know that eBay Inc. (NASDAQ: EBAY) has caved into the demand from activist investor Carl Icahn and agreed to spin off its PayPal division, we can’t help but wonder what the future holds for PayPal as an independent company. Will Tesla Motors Inc.’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) CEO Elon Musk or Peter Thiel buy back the company that made each a billionaire when PayPal was sold to eBay in 2002?

Not likely, but you never know. And now that Carl Icahn has gotten what he wanted from eBay, he is suggesting that PayPal should lead a consolidation of the payments industry:

It also continues to be my belief that the payments industry, of which PayPal is an important part, must be consolidated — either through acquisitions made by PayPal or a merger between PayPal and another strong player in the industry. It is possible that this could be accomplished through a reverse Morris Trust structure because, in light of the development of strong competition such as the advent of Apple Pay, the sooner these consolidations take place, the better.

Icahn goes on to extol the virtues of eBay CEO John Donahoe as someone who “has the interest of enhancing value for all shareholders as his major concern.”

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So, who can afford to pay north of $7 billion for PayPal and still have enough money left over to go toe-to-toe with Apple Inc.’s (NASDAQ: AAPL) Apple Pay payment system? Google had nearly $20 billion in cash and equivalents on hand at the end of June and more than $40 billion in market securities. That ought to be enough. But is it a reasonable deal for Google?

We don’t know how much money the company has thrown at its own payment plan, aka Google Wallet, but we do know that it has not been a success. PC World reported Monday that Google did talk to banks about Wallet, but the search engine company wanted the banks to send shopping data back to Google so that it could better target its advertising and, ultimately, charge more for its advertising.

If that’s the case, and if Google is serious about getting into the payments business and getting its hands on more data about users, then PayPal already has bank and credit card data on more than 150 million active registered users. That is a far cry from iTunes’s 800 million accounts (885 million if you believe U2’s Bono), but it is more than Google has now and more than it is likely to get between now and the middle of next year when the spin-off is expected to be completed. There are worse deals that Google could make.

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