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Fight or flight? Tough choice for Ballmer and crew

As Microsoft's board and execs weigh whether to launch a hostile fight for Yahoo or walk away, bear in mind that more than half of unsolicited bidders take the latter route.

As the week drags on, with Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer under pressure to propose which option to take in his unsolicited bid to buy Yahoo, here are some stats to put in the spreadsheet.

But first, some background. Microsoft's board, which reportedly met Wednesday, apparently came to no conclusion as to whether to launch a proxy fight, walk away, or bump its initial bid beyond its recently released trial balloon of $32 to $33 a share, according to The Wall Street Journal

If Ballmer & Co. were to walk away, by no means would they be the first. In fact, they would be taking a path that a majority of unsolicited buyers have taken after putting a bear-hug squeeze on a target company, according to stats from .

Since 2004 through this week, 206 unsolicited bids have been issued for U.S. public companies by a wanna-be buyer. Of that group, slightly more than half, 110, ended up walking away as a jilted lover.

That would be because 79 percent of those walk-away folks never revised their offer. But even the 17.3 percent that did bump up their bids ended up walking away too.

And in a few cases--less than 1 percent--the unsolicited buyer lowered the bid before giving up the fight.

Chart: hostile takeovers

The walk-away group is part of a larger crowd that never went hostile in trying to land a company by waging a proxy fight or tender offer. Overall, that pacifist group accounted for 75 percent of the 206 unsolicited bidders, according to FactSet MergerMetrics.

"Most deals are unsolicited, even the friendly variety. Someone has to approach the other," said John Laide, FactSet Merger Metrics product manager.

He noted that it's only when the prospective suitors don't get the answer they want that they go public with their interest.

"It's not surprising that only a small percentage will go hostile. Most companies prefer not to do it," Laide said.

Of these 155 never-went-hostile types, 21 completed the deal. Surprisingly, a third of those companies were able to do it without raising their bid, while two-thirds needed that extra boost.

On the hostile front, a quarter of the 206 unsolicited bids went that route. Microsoft, for one, is weighing a proxy fight as one of its options.

One thing Ballmer and crew should note: Going hostile doesn't increase your chances of getting the deal done. Chew on this: 65 percent of the hostile group ended walking away from the deal, post proxy fight or tender offer.

A slight majority of the "hostile" types who walked away, 57.6 percent, increased their offer, while the remainder did not. No one decreased the offer.

Of the 51 "hostile" bidders, only 4 percent landed a deal. Virtually all of those 12 bidders increased their offer, with only one keeping the price as is.

News.com readers, in a poll from late last week ahead of Microsoft's Saturday deadline for Yahoo to come to the negotiating table, gave the edge to Microsoft giving up. The informal poll showed that 47.4 percent believe Microsoft will walk from the deal, while 38 percent believe it will launch a proxy fight, and 14.6 percent say a tender offer.

What do you think, given these FactSet MergerMetrics stats?