Elon Musk’s Twitter Gambit Tees Up a Who’s In-or-Out White Knight List

(Bloomberg) – Twitter Inc., which is trying to defend itself against Elon Musk’s $ 43 billion takeover bid, has a poison pill in place, so the next obvious move on the hostile M&A to-do list is likely already being contemplated: a white knight.

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White knights ride in as rival buyers to save companies pursued by unwelcome suitors, often sparking a bidding war that benefits the target’s shareholders no matter who wins. Let’s game out which of the potential bidders now lighting up Twitter feeds may or may not come to the company’s rescue, including some wild cards.

Who’s Out

Alternative asset manager giant Apollo Global Management Inc. is interested in helping finance a bid for Twitter, likely through its credit arm. It owns internet sites Yahoo and AOL, but it has ruled out a full-on takeover of Twitter.

The Walt Disney Co. once considered buying Twitter when Bob Iger was chief executive officer but backed off over content concerns. It has too much on its plate already with challenges in growing its streaming business and the war going on with Florida politicians.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., the world’s largest bank, is conflicted out of working for Musk (notwithstanding its lawsuit against Tesla), since its tech bankers are advising Twitter.

Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc. is the least likely of tech’s big four to even consider taking part in a Twitter deal. As it is, lawmakers by the score already accuse it of using acquisitions to thwart competitors and want to break it up. Twitter would only give Facebook more control over social media, where it’s by far the biggest player.

With a board seat on Twitter, Silver Lake Management LLC – for now – would have a conflict of interest if it tried to buy the company outright. The technology-focused private equity firm also has a standstill agreement as part of a settlement with Twitter, so it couldn’t start buying up shares without ending that agreement.

Who’s Unlikely

Alphabet Inc.’s Google kicked the tires on Twitter in 2016 (and reportedly before then) as a resource for improving its search offerings and advertising business. But Google’s shifting business priorities have put its M&A focus on beefing up its third-place cloud business and new areas such as wearable tech. Regulators would probably look askance at any deal increasing its share of the digital ad market it already dominates.

Apple Inc., despite its cash pile, has an aversion to big deals and a lack of interest in social media, plus ongoing tussles with regulators. Apple’s largest purchase remains its $ 3 billion Beats takeover. After a handful of failed attempts over the years to gain a foothold in social media, Apple no longer sees it as a major area of ​​interest. What’s more, Apple is in the cross hairs of lawmakers and regulators over its dominance of the app economy and would probably face opposition to any deal giving it sway over one of the most popular mobile apps.

Microsoft Corp. famously missed out on the rise of the consumer web and has tried – and largely failed – to build a beachhead on social media in recent years. The business software giant was one of the companies that tried to buy TikTok in 2020, and that didn’t go well. Now in the midst of its $ 69 billion Activision Blizzard Inc. acquisition, Microsoft might not have the taste for a multibillion-dollar fight over Twitter.

Salesforce Inc. CEO Marc Benioff tried to buy Twitter in 2016 but backed off after investors balked and management concluded it was a poor strategic fit. He now shares the helm of the enterprise software company with co-CEO Bret Taylor, who’s also Twitter’s chairman. Even so, there’s little reason to expect Salesforce to make another run at Twitter – especially now that it owns Slack, a kind of social network – this one for businesses.

Who’s Plausible

Amazon.com Inc. CEO Andy Jassy last week said “it sounds like somebody else is going to own Twitter” when asked on CNBC. Still, cash-rich Amazon has dabbled in social media; it acquired and then shut down social media startup PlanetAll in the 1990s, and has experimented in social shopping. While Amazon has steered clear of the industry more recently and has powerful opponents in regulatory circles, co-founder Jeff Bezos has an appetite. He bought the Washington Post with his personal fortune to run separately from Amazon. Is there a way he could swoop in to snatch Twitter away from Musk? Amazon has been doing bigger and bigger acquisitions lately, like MGM, which closed this year. It might be a game to see how many deals it could squeeze by regulators in Washington. Plus, Amazon doesn’t have much overlap with Twitter.

Activist investor Elliott Investment Management is still on Twitter’s shareholder roster. The hedge fund has deep pockets, likes big messy situations and knows the company well from having a board seat for a few years. It has also been buying tech companies, such as its pending deal for Citrix Systems.

Oracle Corp., as part of a consortium that included Walmart Inc., also tried to get a piece of TikTok in 2020 as a way to generate business for its cloud computing business. But like Microsoft, Oracle is in the midst of a major acquisition; it agreed to buy Cerner for $ 28.3 billion last year and has yet to clear all the regulatory hurdles. Another consideration: co-founder Larry Ellison is close to Musk, with a big stake in Tesla and a seat on its board.

PayPal Holdings Inc. surprised investors by considering acquiring social media company Pinterest Inc. last year. It’s been on the prowl for acquisitions to diversity itself. Could it look at buying Twitter and introduce a buying platform turning the site into a community where people shop?

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