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Google is exploring the possibility of helping to finance a possible deal by others to acquire Internet search company Yahoo, according to a report published report by the Wall Street Journal on Saturday.

Google Inc. has talked to at least two-private equity firms about potentially assisting them to finance a deal to buy Yahoo Inc.'s core business, according to the story, which cited a person familiar with the matter, and did not identify the source.

The Journal said Google and prospective partners have held early-stage discussions, but haven't assembled a formal proposal. The source said Google may not end up pursuing a bid.

A spokeswoman for Mountain View, Calif.-based Google declined to comment to The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Yahoo said the company doesn't comment "on rumor or speculation."

Any involvement by Google in a Yahoo acquisition would likely draw antitrust scrutiny from regulators, because of both companies' shares in the Internet search business.

The report came as investors have recently driven up Yahoo's stock price, betting that the company will sell itself, either in whole or in part. Closing Friday at $16.12 apiece, the shares have gained nearly 25 percent since Sept. 6, when CEO Carol Bartz was fired. They are up 45 percent from the stock's 52-week low reached in early August.

There has been repeated speculation that the company might be sold to an assortment of buyout firms that prey upon troubled companies. Alibaba Group, a Chinese Internet company of which Yahoo owns a 43 percent stake, has expressed interest if it can line up the financing for a deal that would likely require a bid of more than $20 billion, the current market value of Yahoo's shares. Microsoft Corp., which offered to buy Yahoo for $47.5 billion in 2008 before withdrawing the bid, also has been mentioned as a possible suitor.

Since Bartz' firing, Tim Morse has been filling in as Yahoo's interim CEO while also working as chief financial officer. After the company's third-quarter earnings announcement on Tuesday, Morse told analysts that he couldn't discuss what the company's next step might be or when it might take it.

Yahoo is under pressure because its revenue has been falling at a time when the Internet advertising market has been growing as rivals such as Google and Facebook gain market share.

Although it's still recognized around the world, Yahoo's brand has been losing its luster as people increasingly embrace social networks such as Facebook and short-messaging service Twitter to keep track of what's going on instead of relying on a media hub like Yahoo's website.

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