AOL is close to selling Bebo to an investor group, we’ve confirmed from a source close to the company. The price? $10 million or less. Rumors of the acquisition first surfaced this morning, and the buyer may be Criterion Capital Partners.
That’s just a bit less than the $850 million AOL paid for the social network in 2008. And as decimated as Bebo is, it’s almost certainly worth more than $10 million.
But the deal will also give AOL the ability to write off the full purchase price of Bebo for tax purposes, which we wrote about in March:
Despite that value, Aol’s best financial option for Bebo will likely be to abandon it rather than sell it, say corporate tax experts we’ve spoken with.
Here’s why – complicated corporate tax rules will let Aol write off the full purchase price of Bebo if they declare it worthless and abandon the asset. With Aol’s effective tax rate of around 45%, that’s $380 million and change in their pocket in taxes that they’d be able to avoid.
A sale of Bebo would almost certainly be less attractive. If someone were to pay them $100 million for the service, which is optimistic, Aol could still offset the remaining $750 million as a tax loss. But it could only apply against long term capital gains, and Aol doesn’t have any to offset against. They’d have to carry that loss forward and hope for future gains to offset it against.
One corporate tax attorney we spoke with wouldn’t discuss Aol specifically, but did confirm the logic of the approach. Bryan Smith, a partner at Perkins Coie, says “Without getting into any specific facts or companies, it will often be more attractive for a U.S. corporation to simply shut down a subsidiary and claim a deduction for the worthlessness of the stock against ordinary income instead of selling the stock at a distressed price and taking a capital loss, which may only offset capital gains.”
In April AOL confirmed that they were going to sell or abandon Bebo. This sale, we’re hearing, still allows AOL to write off the purchase against ordinary income, meaning they may save hundreds of millions of dollars in corporate taxes.
We’ll update with more information as we get it.
Update: From AOL -
CRITERION CAPITAL PARTNERS ACQUIRES BEBO FROM AOL
Los Angeles, CA – June 17, 2010 – Criterion Capital Partners, LLC (CCP), a merchant banking and financial advisory firm based in the United States, announced today that it has acquired the Bebo business, the youth-centric social media network, from AOL Inc. As part of the deal, CCP will assume the rights and complete operating control over the global social platform business.
The acquisition and financing was lead by Adam Levin, managing partner at CCP, in partnership with accomplished business strategist Paul Abramowitz and web entrepreneur Richard Hecker. CCP will take over Bebo’s global operations immediately and retain a San Francisco-based headquarters. Exact terms of the deal are not being disclosed by either party.
“The young, highly active user base, revenue history, presence in countries throughout the world and solid technical infrastructure make it an attractive media platform both as a standalone entity and in the context of our broader investment objectives,” said Levin.
“Criterion Capital Partners are specialists in facilitating growth plans and turnarounds, and are well placed to drive Bebo’s effort to strengthen its foothold within the highly competitive social networking arena,” said Tim Armstrong, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, AOL.
Bebo launched in 2005 and was acquired by AOL in March 2008 for $850 million. It is a social media network that combines community, connections, self-expression and entertainment via a range of social tools, games and a growing mobile platform. Bebo has a strong user base across the globe, including in the U.S., the UK, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Poland, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, India, Pakistan and the Netherlands.
About Criterion Capital Partners, LLC
Criterion Capital Partners is an integrated advisory and consulting firm serving U.S. and international clients who seek the preparation and implementation of APOs, outsourced business development, acquisitions or marketing strategies – executed concurrently with the organization and structuring of capital procurement. Led by Adam Levin, CCP delivers objective thinking, proven practices and best-of-breed partners to help clients achieve their specific development and financial goals.