Google looks to cash in AOL stake

NEW YORK - Google has told Time Warner it wants to cash in its three-year-old, 5% stake in AOL, which could led to the internet business being spun off or sold.

According to a Reuters report Time Warner said yesterday it had received a request from Google to exercise what is called its "demand registration statement" on the search giant's AOL stake.

John Martin, Time Warner Chief Financial Officer, said the decision by Google to sell-up its investment gave Time Warner's a number of options including taking AOL public or buying the stake back.

Martin said: "We're reviewing what we received and we're evaluating our options."

Jeffrey Bewkes, Time Warner CEP, said Time Warner was considering all options, including spinning off AOL to shareholders.

Bewkes said: "It's a scenario where we could spin off all or parts of AOL."

One thing is certainly true, the stake is worth a lot less now than when Google bought it three years ago. At the time the AOL was valued at $20bn and the stake at $1bn.

Since then AOL is thought to be worth around a quarter of that, with a valuation of around $5.5bn.

Once Google's sale of its 5% stake has gone through it will continue to provide search services to AOL, which is part of a separate long-term deal.

Analysts have speculated that when the search deal ends late this year AOL is likely to turn to other search partners, such as Microsoft's MSN.

Google's decision to get out of AOL could speed up a possible merger of AOL with either Yahoo! or Microsoft both of which would be interested in its media and advertising business, which has been hit like all online properties recently by the decline in ad sales.

AOL's global ad revenue fell by $135m (6%) last year, and slid further at the end of the year, finishing 18% down year on year in Q4 2008.

Last month AOL said it would cut 700 jobs, or 10% of its workforce in a bid to cut costs amid the advertising slump.

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