The Penny Drops on Verizon’s Acquisition of Yahoo

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In a filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission Tuesday morning, Verizon Communications Inc. (NYSE: VZ) said that it plans to take a non-cash goodwill impairment charge of $4.6 billion related to its 2017 $8.9 billion acquisitions of Yahoo and AOL. The two businesses had been combined to create a media business called Oath, headed by former AOL CEO Tim Armstrong.

New CEO Hans Vestberg made clear his intention to focus Verizon on the coming battle for 5G networking and Armstrong left the company shortly after Vestberg took over in August. Oath became Verizon’s Media group and K. Guru Gowrappan was appointed CEO in October.

A strategic review of the Media group’s prospects concluded by finding “unfavorable adjustments to Oath’s financial projections” and that “the fair value of the Oath reporting unit [was] less than its carrying amount.” Prior to this morning’s filing, the goodwill balance of the Oath unit had been $4.8 billion. Other assets remaining in the Media group are valued at around $5 billion.

The impairment charge is no surprise to most observers. Wells Fargo analyst Jennifer Fritzsche told Bloomberg, “The hype of Oath has been over for some time.”

Nothing Verizon did in the year after it closed its acquisition for Yahoo boosted Oath’s profile or value. The ill-named firm got more press coverage when it closed down AOL’s AIM messaging program than for any other single thing it’s done.

For Verizon, the acquisition of Yahoo and AOL was never going to be a game changer. In order for that to happen, Verizon needs a deal like AT&T’s $85 billion takeover of Time Warner, and that was not going to happen. Verizon’s long-term debt at the end of the third quarter totaled $106.4 billion thanks to its $130 billion acquisition of minority stakeholder Vodafone’s shares in Verizon Wireless back in 2013. At least Verizon shareholders can take some comfort in the fact that the company’s foray into the media business ended with a relatively modest loss.