Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Microsoft Stock Buyback: Pay Other Companies to Build a Good Idea - That You Can Buy?

My first impulse was to be underwhelmed by the recent Microsoft announcement that they are planning to buy back some $32 billion of its stock over the next four years and provide extraordinary dividends to shareholders (total package about $75 billion), but perhaps it's because I've heard this song before. Was it not long ago that then-Reuters CEO Peter Job announced returning millions of its "cash mountain" to shareholders who rightly deserved it? Some four years later Reuters no doubt would have yearned to have some of that buffer available in its lean times as it suffered through being unable to buy a clue as to how to attack the content marketplace effectively. Reuters may have come through that period a better and more efficient company for the trouble, but it was hardly the result of feeding shareholders with monies that could have gone to product investment. Microsoft is essentially admitting to middle age and an inability to provide effective earnings per share in its current diluted state. The move will do much to prop up per-share earnings in these leaner times, but does little to restore any hint of growth luster to the stock. In the meantime, much of that $75 billion may go from investors' hands into other companies that may have more innovative ideas as to how to attack content technologies. Companies which in turn Microsoft may buy in time, I imagine. Hmmm, if you can't buy a clue, why not pay people to find one for you...?
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