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EBAY HANGS UP ON SKYPE IN $2BN DEAL

INTERNETauction giant eBay yesterday agreed to sell a majority stake in Skype, its free internet telephone business, to a group of private investors for $2bn (&pound;1.23bn).<br /><br />The consortium, which is being led by USprivate equity firm Silver Lake, includes Andreessen Horowitz &ndash; a firm run by the Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen &ndash; and London-based private equity group Index Ventures.<br /><br />JP Morgan, Barclays and RBC Capital Markets are backing the investors.<br /><br />Under the terms of the deal, which values the firm at $2.75bn, eBay will retain a 35 per cent stake in Skype and will receive $1.9bn in cash and a $125m note from the buyers.<br /><br />The value of the deal is $350m less than eBay paid for Skype four years ago, when it had high hopes for the business.<br /><br />It originally dreamed of greater synergies between its eBay and PayPal operations and Skype, which charges for calls to regular telephones but provides free computer-to-computer voice, video and text services.<br /><br />But in 2007 eBay was forced to write down about $1.4bn of its investment and, earlier this year, it announced plans to float the business, signalling that it was open to bids from prospective buyers.<br /><br />&ldquo;Skype is a strong standalone business, but it does not have synergies with our e-commerce and online payments business PayPal,&rdquo; eBay chief executive John Donahoe said yesterday.<br /><br />&ldquo;This is a group of investors and industry veterans that have a strong track record of taking the technology companies they own to the next level,&rdquo; said Skype boss Josh Silverman.<br /><br />Analysts were surprised at the high valuation of Skype&rsquo;s business, but said the sale eliminated a lot of the risks associated with an IPO.<br /><br />Investors also raised concerns over the continued legal battle between eBay and Joltid &ndash; owned by Skype&rsquo;s original founders &ndash; over which company owns the rights to the technology which powers Skype.<br /><br />But Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Marianne Wolk said that eBay&rsquo;s retention of a Skype stake was positive.