Posts tagged ‘Microsoft’

Microsoft Enters Garbage Recycling Business

Microsoft Inc. (MSFT) is going green in more ways than one. Not only is Microsoft shelling out a lot of green ($8.5 billion) to acquire internet communication company Skype, but Microsoft is also going green by recycling Skype – an asset previously tossed away as garbage by eBay Inc. (EBAY). While I’m certain Microsoft executives did their due diligence and a large cadre of savvy bankers provided their stamp of approval on the deal, recycling a previously disposed item successfully poses some unique challenges.

The Problems

What could possibly go wrong in a sexy, strategic deal that plans to leverage Skype’s power of internet communication across Microsoft’s various businesses including mobile, business software, gaming, and advertising platforms?

  • Sticker Shock: The Microsoft-Skype deal is still in its early phases, but the multi-billion price tag has already elicited heartburn from some investors (heart attacks among others). In Microsoft’s defense, what’s a mere $8.5 billion among friends, especially if your wallet is stuffed with over $60 billion in cash like Microsoft? With the 3-month Treasury bill currently yielding 0.02%, the massive wads of cash that Microsoft (and other tech giants) is sitting on appear to be burning a hole in buyers’ pockets. In a kooky internet world where IPO valuations of $70 billion for Facebook, $25 billion for Groupon, and $3 billion for LinkedIn are freely tossed around, an $8.5 billion Skype offer may seem like par for the course (or even a bargain). Sadly, however, I am having difficulty reconciling how Microsoft will take 663 million money-losing customers at Skype and balance the laws of economics by adding further volumes of money-losing customers. Apple Inc. (AAPL) spends about $2 billion per year in research & development, and is expected to produce more than $100 billion in revenues in fiscal 2011, while the $8.5 billion that Microsoft spent on Skype produced less than $1 billion in revenues last year. I presume Microsoft has some aggressive assumptions built into their Skype forecasts to rationalize the price paid for Skype.

 

  • Failure Déjà Vu: Does the desire to integrate wiz-bang technology into existing product platforms sound familiar? It should – eBay Inc. (EBAY) already attempted and failed at integrating Skype before it threw in the white towel at the end of 2009 and sold a majority $1.9 billion stake of Skype shares back to a group of investors, including the Skype founders. Back in 2005, when eBay paid a then bargain of $3.1 billion for Skype (including earnouts), former CEO Meg Whitman evangelized the “Power of 3” (Skype + eBay’s Marketplace + PayPal) – I suppose new CEO John Donahoe must now promote the “Power of 2.” In Skype merger sequel of 2011, Microsoft’s CEO Steve Ballmer is espousing the benefits of Skype across Microsoft properties such as Outlook, Windows Live Messenger, Xbox, Kinect, and its newly created Nokia Corp. (NOK) relationship. Gaudy priced mergers in the internet/social media space have a way of eventually ending up in the deal graveyard. Consider AOL Inc.’s (AOL) 2008 deal with social network Bebo for $850 million – two years later AOL sold it for $10 million. News Corp’s (NWS) high profile purchase of MySpace for $580 million is reportedly looking for a new home at a fraction of the original price ($50 million). Hewlett-Packard Co.’s (HPQ) ostentatious $2.4 billion value (~125 x’s forward earnings) paid for 3Par Inc. during a bidding war with Dell Inc. (DELL) in 2010 is another recent example of a risky high-priced deal.

 

  • Telco Carrier Skepticism: Although Microsoft has ambitions of taking over the world with Skype, the telecom service carrier companies that facilitate Skype traffic may feel differently. As the telcos spend billions to expand the global internet superhighway, if Skype is clogging traffic on their networks then the carriers will likely require additional compensation – no freeloaders allowed.  

 

  • Rocky Past Marriages: When it comes to acquisitions, Microsoft historically hasn’t fooled around as much as some other large Fortune 100 companies, nonetheless some important past relationships have gone sour. Take for instance Microsoft’s previous largest $6 billion cash acquisition of aQuantive Inc. in 2007. As Microsoft continues to chase Google Inc. (GOOG) at their heels, Microsoft has little to show for the aQuantive deal, except for a lot of employee turnover. The sizable but smaller $1.1 billion acquisition of Great Plains in 2001 has its critics too. Like Skype, the Great Plains business software deal made strategic sense, but six years after the units were fully integrated founder and owner Doug Burgum packed his bags and left Microsoft. 

Consequences

What happens next for Microsoft? I know it’s difficult to imagine that Microsoft’s colossal underperformance since the beginning of 2010 could worsen – Microsoft has underperformed the market by a whopping -38% over that period – but by massively overpaying for Skype’s losses, Microsoft is not making their own job any easier. Although Microsoft has missed many key technology trends over the last few years (e.g., search, mobile, tablets, social media, etc.) and its stock has been in the dumps, the PC behemoth is looking to salvage a previously failed merger into a successful one. Time will tell if Microsoft can recycle a trashed, money losing operation into hefty green profits. If not, investors will be out for blood wondering why $8.5 billion was thrown away like garbage. 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, AAPL, and GOOG,  but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MSFT, Skype, EBAY, AOL, HPQ, DELL, NOK, Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn, Groupon, Bebo, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

May 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm Leave a comment

Microsoft’s Hand Caught in Google Cookie Jar

Source: Photobucket

The globalized world we live in has become ever-more connected (see Globalization Train), and the recent events in Egypt where mass protests were organized, in large part by Facebook and Twitter, only goes to show the importance technology plays in our daily lives. As a result of our tight global links and the advancement of technology, product cycles have only become shorter and more competitive, raising the stakes for business success. The expanded field of cut-throat competitors in a digital age has also increased the value of intellectual property (IP). Increasingly, lawyers and judges are being forced to decipher the obscure realm of bits and bytes and vigorously defend unique IP from competitors.

If You Can’t Beat Them, Copy Them

Case in point is the current war of code-words between Google Inc. (GOOG) and Microsoft Corp. (MSFT). Google claims they have caught Microsoft’s hand in the corporate espionage cookie jar by watching Microsoft effectively steal Google’s algorithmic search code for the software giant’s Bing search service. How can Google make such harsh and direct accusations? Google claims to have set up “synthetic” searches, which were designed as digital booby traps. Based on Google’s story, Microsoft appears to have taken the bait…hook, line, and sinker.

You be the judge. Here was the synthetic search result for “indoswiftjobinproduction” when entered in Google:

Source: Search Engine Land

This is the response when the same search term “indoswiftjobinproduction” was keyed in on Microsoft’s Bing search service:

Source: Search Engine Land

Coincidence? Perhaps. Likely? No.

Well, maybe lightning just struck with the “indoswiftjobinproduction” search term gibberish – why not try another?

This is what Google’s search results created when “mbzrxpgjys” was entered:

Source: Search Engine Land

When the same “mbzrxpgjys” term was inputted into Microsoft’s Bing, here was the result:

Source: Search Engine Land

Hmmm, I seem to be detecting a pattern here.

Is Microsoft’s apparent copycat behavior illegal? The evidence for the moment doesn’t appear to be clear, thanks mostly to the fine-print legalese of confusing check boxes that nobody reads when downloading or using any internet service. Evidently, many Microsoft Internet Explorer (IE) users have unknowingly provided Google search information typed in through Microsoft’s IE browser, and the Redmond behemoth has been using this information to sharpen their search algorithms.

So if this behavior is not illegal, then should this activity be considered cheating? Here’s what Amit Singhal, a Google executive who oversees the company’s search engine ranking algorithm has to say about the issue:

“It’s cheating to me because we work incredibly hard and have done so for years but they just get there based on our hard work…I don’t know how else to call it but plain and simple cheating. Another analogy is that it’s like running a marathon and carrying someone else on your back, who jumps off just before the finish line.”

 

I’m sure this will not be the last we hear on the subject of technology and corporate cheating. As a matter of fact, in the field of intellectual property crimes, French-Japanese car giant Renault-Nissan recently brought the case of industrial espionage, corruption, theft, stolen goods, and conspiracy against three senior Renault executives. The allegations of selling crucial electric car information to the Chinese raised concerns to a feverish pitch in the tabloids because so much can be gained or lost by those involved in this estimated $2 trillion electric car market.  

The committing of crimes is nothing new, but the types of new crimes are changing. In a globalized world increasingly dominated by technology, perpetrators better think twice about committing these invisible crimes. Cheating may taste sweet, until you get caught with your hand in the cookie jar.

Read More about the GoogleMicrosoft Tiff

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and GOOG, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in MSFT, Facebook, Twitter, Renault, Nissan, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 5, 2011 at 7:31 pm Leave a comment

Corporate Shockers: You did *#$@% to Steve Jobs?

Source: 1funny.com

Steve Jobs recruited John Sculley to run Apple Computers (AAPL) in 1983 because the board wanted someone more experienced than a snot-nosed 28 year old founder barking orders at Apple employees. Sculley was a seasoned 15 year veteran executive from Pepsi Co. (PEP) whom was persuaded by Jobs to take over the company and join him in changing the world.

Things were all nifty until Sculley went all Brutus on Jobs and decided to fire him with board assistance in 1985 when it was believed that Jobs was poaching executives from Apple to join Jobs’s successor company, Next Computers.

The verdict may not completely be out on Sculley’s effectiveness on running Apple, but he deserves a PhD in the “Obvious Arts.” When asked if the coordinated decision (between Sculley and the Board) to fire Steve Jobs more than 25 years ago was correct, this is what Sculley had to say:

“In hindsight, I think they [board] made the wrong choice. They should have chosen Steve…we should have figured out a way to work with it [Job’s talent].”

 

Click Here for John Sculley Bloomberg Interview

Over his term at Apple, Sculley increased sales from $800 million to $8 billion. Good performance, but apparently not good enough, because Sculley was axed in 1993 and a window was opened for Jobs to return as Apple’s puppet-master four years later. The rest is history and AAPL stock went from about $10 per share when Sculley left all the way up to $316.65 today. Not too shabby.

In another shocker, after hiring Sculley and then getting fired by Sculley, Jobs said Sculley won’t talk to him. I can’t understand why a company founder would hold a grudge toward a hand-picked former employee who spearheaded a lynching against his boss? Well, I guess karma has a way of evening things out in the long run – redemption was found with Jobs’s climbing the Silicon Valley mountain to create the $300 billion consumer technology behemoth. I’m sure you don’t have to cry a river for John Sculley, but if he can’t control his own tears, he can always use his hundred dollar bills as tissue surrogates.

What makes Jobs’s decline and subsequent triumph even more unbelievable are the hugs and kisses Steve Jobs owes Microsoft founder and billionaire Bill Gates. If not for a $150 million lifeline offered by Gates to Steve Jobs in August 1997, while Apple was on its financial deathbed, we may not have ever experienced the iPod, iPhone, iPad, or future overhyped consumer gadget (OK, I admit it, I have succumbed to the hype myself). I’m guessing if Bill were given another chance, he would have passed on that Apple investment and we would be stuck paying for $4,000 computers and $1,000 Microsoft Office upgrades.

As a result of these corporate shockers, several lessons can be learned. Number one: If you are hired by a company founder, be careful about firing that boss if put in that position – you could potentially be jeopardizing the creation of hundreds of billions of dollars in future value. Number two: If you are unable to successfully negotiate lesson number one, then just find someone to lend you $150 million. History has taught us lessons based on past events ranging from Prohibition to Watergate, and from Nazi Germany to Tiger Woods’s indiscretions. John Sculley also learned lessons from Apple’s corporate shockers, and so can you.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®  

Plan. Invest. Prosper.  

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds and AAPL, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in PEP, MSFT, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

November 12, 2010 at 1:33 am Leave a comment


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