NYSE owner makes takeover approach to eBay

Intercontinental Exchange Inc (ICE), the owner of the New York Stock Exchange, has reached out to eBay Inc to explore a potential combination with the e-commerce company, people familiar with the said on Tuesday (Feb 4).

The acquisition would exceed US$30 billion (S$41 billion) and represent a substantial departure from ICE's focus on financial markets. The move would call on its technological expertise in running markets to extract efficiencies from eBay's marketplace platform, which connects buyers and sellers of goods around the world.

ICE's interest in eBay is preliminary, and there is no certainty that a deal will be negotiated, the sources said. The Wall Street Journal, which first reported on the deal discussions, said ICE is not interested in eBay's classified ad unit, which eBay has been considering selling.

EBay's shares ended trading on Tuesday up 8.7 per cent on the news to US$37.41, giving it a market value of US$30.4 billion. ICE shares fell 7.5 per cent to US$92.59, giving the company a market value of US$51.6 billion, as investors fretted a deal could be dilutive for the stock exchange operator.

ICE and eBay declined to comment.

ICE, which also operates futures exchanges and clearing-houses, has faced pressure from US regulators to freeze or reduce the fees it charges to operate financial markets, spurring it to diversify its business.

ICE's approach rekindles debate among investors over whether eBay should be moving faster to shed its classifieds business, which advertises products and services for sale off the eBay marketplace. Earlier on Tuesday, activist shareholder Starboard Value once again called on eBay Inc to sell off its classifieds business, arguing the company has not made enough progress to improve shareholder value.

“To achieve the optimal outcome, we believe Classifieds must be separated, and a more comprehensive and aggressive operating plan must be put in place to drive profitable growth in the Marketplace business,” Starboard said in a letter to eBay's board.

EBay said it would “review Starboard's letter and perspectives.”

EBay has been shifting focus to its advertising and payments businesses amid stiff competition in its marketplace business from Amazon.com Inc and Walmart Inc.

The company faced pressure last year not only from Starboard but also from hedge fund Elliott Management. In a settlement, eBay offered a board seat to Elliott's Jesse Cohn and to Matt Murphy, president and CEO of Marvell Technology, which was backed by Starboard. EBay also agreed in March to conduct a strategic review of its business and in November agreed to sell StubHub for US$4.05 billion in cash.

The company is expected to provide an update this year on its classifieds business, which Elliott valued at between US$8 billion and US$12 billion.

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