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eBay Needs PayPal to Fight Amazon

Stocks in this article: EBAY AMZN

"We need partners like PayPal and eBay for the industry so that it helps everyone else improve their experiences," Mulpuru writes. Interestingly, the analyst also says a divested PayPal could be acquired by the likes of Microsoft (MSFT) and Google (GOOG), who have so far been unable to realize success in e-commerce.

Finally, PayPal keeps the payments space competitive. It is the market leader, however new platforms like Square have emerged as credible threats. That has increased PayPal's investment in innovation, in addition to investment from a range of competitors like banks, payment processors and tech firms. It is also worth noting that upstarts like Square seem to rely on deep-pocketed backers like Starbucks (SBUX), potentially proving eBay's strategy.

"A change in PayPal's ownership would all but kill one of the most innovative players in digital payments, not to mention a brand that currently has a tremendous level of consumer trust," Mulpuru concludes.

As eBay's May 13th annual shareholder meeting approaches, it will be interesting to see whether eBay shareholders side with management, or see a benefit in Icahn's 20% spinoff proposal.

Already, Icahn has backed down from some recommendations such as a full sale or spin of PayPal, however, the activist continues to press for two seats to eBay's board and a partial sale of PayPal.

A 20% stake sale, by definition, would be an attempt at financial engineering; however, Icahn believes it could free PayPal to enter new commercial arrangements and could give investors an ability to put a firm valuation on the asset.

It is an attractive time for companies to consider stake sales. Yahoo! (YHOO) has seen its shares rise 55% over the past 12-months as Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba moves toward an initial public offering. Yahoo! has a large stake in Alibaba.

The IPO of Alibaba and surging, if not bubble-like valuations across the technology landscape may prove an interesting psychological backdrop to what is one of the most complex activist campaigns in the tech sector's history.

Bottom Line: eBay has found extremely credible advocates of its long-term strategy, executed under CEO John Donahoe. Shorter-term asset realization plans pressed by activist investors have propelled tech stalwarts like Yahoo!, Motorola (MSI), and AOL (AOL) in recent years.

-- Written by Antoine Gara in New York

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