Microsoft eyes stake in Facebook

Facebook's Mark ZuckerbergFacebook’s Mark Zuckerberg
Photo: AP

Microsoft is talking to Facebook about buying a minority stake in the fast-growing online social network that could value the company at $US10 billion or more, the Wall Street Journal is reporting on its website.

Citing people familiar with the matter, the Journal said the world’s largest software company sought to buy a stake of up to 5 per cent in Facebook for $US300 million to $US500 million.

Facebook, led by its 23-year-old founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg, may insist on a valuation as high as $US15 billion and is considering raising up to $US500 million in cash to expand its operations, according to the Journal.

Such a deal could help Microsoft better compete against web search leader Google for a growing base of online advertising and put one of the Internet’s hottest names firmly in Microsoft’s camp.

Google has also expressed an interest in investing in Facebook, the Journal report said.

“It would probably be pretty good for Microsoft since it has not had the best success in creating really hip, young-people-grabbing stuff on the web,” said Kim Caughey, a senior analyst at Fort Pitt Capital Group, which oversees more than $US1 billion, including Microsoft shares, for clients.

Microsoft would not comment on the report, while Facebook representatives were not immediately available to comment.

Facebook, which allows members to seek out a circle of friends and share online activities, has seen speculation over a potential partnership or buyout intensify as it rapidly expands its base of users and advertisers.

It has grown to 39 million members, up nearly 63 per cent from 24 million in late May, and is quickly gaining ground against larger rival MySpace, bought by News Corp in 2005 for what is now seen as a bargain price of $US580 million. MySpace now has more than 200 million users.

Microsoft already has an exclusive agreement until 2011 to broker display advertisements for Facebook. The Journal said Microsoft and Facebook are discussing expanding that agreement beyond the United States.

After relinquishing an early advantage in the lucrative paid search market to Google and Yahoo, Microsoft is trying to catch up by clinching deals to broker display advertising to some of the leading names in “Web 2.0.”

Web 2.0 is a catch-phrase for a new generation of internet services that run on interactive software and typically rely on content generated by users to attract more visitors to the site.

Reuters

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