Analysts believe it’s “possible” that the software giant Microsoft could acquire an equity stake in eBay’s PayPal and Skype. So are we talking about minority stakes or total ownership? Is eBay even up for the sale?

No matter how you slice it, Microsoft has a lot to gain if eBay is willing to sell off any of its moving parts.

We can’t argue against the notion that Microsoft could swallow eBay whole. This was suggested as much three months ago. Such a move would make sense, especially since PayPal and Skype are good fits in Microsoft’s online strategy.

Microsoft once had dreams of taking on PayPal. It was hoping to transform its Passport platform into a transactional medium for third parties.

PayPal was too big to compete against back then, and it’s even bigger now. The only real threat to PayPal these days is Google Checkout, and not even that race is close. If Microsoft wanted to buy Yahoo! so badly, imagine how much it would love to own the micropayments standard that’s trouncing Google, which itself is smacking Yahoo! around these days.

Skype is another good fit. The leader in online chat dovetails nicely with Microsoft’s Web-based communications efforts through Windows Live Messenger.

Then we have eBay itself. Microsoft is no stranger to the leading consumer-to-consumer auction-listings website. eBay is part of the program, through which Microsoft rewards buyers with rebates.

Perhaps the most important aspect eBay can offer in Microsoft’s quest to take on Google is that eBay’s website traffic consists of consumers with a predisposition to spend money online. And Microsoft needs quality traffic, not simply the sheer volume of poorly monetized pages it would have gotten on a Yahoo! deal.


Under Microsoft’s arm, eBay would probably appease sellers by lowering fees and reversing some of the site’s recent anti-seller moves. It would have to, just so it wouldn’t alienate the Power Sellers by serving up competing ads to monetize the site.

With eBay’s enterprise value sitting at $33 billion, a friendly acquisition at a fair premium would run Microsoft about — if not more than — what it was willing to pay for Yahoo! earlier this year.

This would have to be a friendly combination. What’s more, eBay, PayPal, and Skype — remain the undisputed market leaders in their niches. Nor are there any shrinking market-share worries creating an urgency to sell.

As for a piecemeal approach, there’s no reason for eBay to sell off its PayPal appendage. It’s the true star in eBay’s portfolio, and it ties in perfectly with eBay’s auction business. Skype, on the other hand, can probably be had, probably for even less.

Skype remains a speed demon. It now connects 309 million users, with revenue soaring 61% this past quarter. The rub is that it’s still a small part of the eBay revenue mix, as attempts to squeeze more money out of the popular voice-chat application have been difficult.

If so, Microsoft would be the best suitor?

In short, Microsoft would be hard-pressed to wrestle away PayPal and should have no problem on Skype, but it would be better off either making a play for all of eBay, or at least a significant minority stake in the company.

Microsoft has to make moves in cyberspace. It can’t afford to keep bleeding market share to Google organically. Swallowing eBay may be too much, but the Redmond giant doesn’t know how much it can eat until it sizes up what’s on the menu.