Wednesday, October 6, 2010

A Case of the Microsoft Downgrade Blues

Oh, great, we've hit a case of the downgrades as a sequel to the quarterly results that no-one bought.

Specifically, Ms. Friar at Goldman Sachs downgraded us with a variety of reasons and expectations. From Mr. Todd Bishop: Goldman downgrades Microsoft, makes case for major overhaul. Snippet of some gold Goldman Sachs from there:

Flashbacks to MSFTExtremeMakeover's last blog entry: Eight Years of Wrongness. Upgrade the "Eight" to a "Ten".

The more interesting follow-up by Mr. Bishop is adding up the numbers in Goldman Sachs' assessment comes up with a $30 share price vs. Goldman Sachs' downgrade to $28: Numbers How Goldman Sachs values each Microsoft division.

Now then, if this report was dated, say, 2006 I would be remarking at the exceptional smarts and bravery of Goldman Sachs to step forward from the meek institutional investor crowd that have been giving Microsoft a free ride. Instead, now that the farm's barn doors have been wide opened for a while, Ms. Friar is walking around saying "Without preventative re-enforcement and diligence of door utilization, it's possible for the horses to escape from here."

The timing is just peculiar, and is resulting in the resumption of resignation requests for Mr. Ballmer: CNBC's Fast Money Microsoft's Steve Ballmer Needs to Go Analyst. Also, Ms. Victoria Barret follows-up with Goldman to Microsoft Do Something - and reflects on her summer story Time to Break Up Microsoft.

Sorry Mr. Institutional Investor, your voice was needed years ago. You have been complicit and ineffective during the worst of it. What's the agenda here? It would have been better for a coalition of institutional investors to speak with one voice, vs. Goldman Sachs. Because... given how Goldman Sachs has proven itself untrustworthy in attempting to destroy the American economy for its own fortune (cue their extended pinky touching edge of mouth), you have to wonder if they have their own greedy agenda - are they betting against the Microsoft stock and expect to benefit from its near-term decline? Or hope to force in a Neutron-Jack CEO to wipe out half the employees and all non-profitable groups?

Or do they expect within a year for Microsoft to have had a very successful consumer cycle and then reward that with an upgrade, in the meantime having had bought up a good bit of cheap stock? Are they looking for quick short-term gains vs. a thoughtful consideration of long-term growth? I feel a baleful gaze cast on us.

And mainly: it's a very poor matter of timing for a break-up. We're about to have a mobile phone come out that actually binds the companies divisions far closer than ever before: Office, Windows Live, Xbox Live, Bing, and Dev Div: this damn thing is the antidote for break-up talk. WP7 wouldn't be impossible to create with a break-up, but it'd be exceptionally difficult. WP7 is pulling together huge resources that none of our direct competitors have.

Now then: stepping back to Classic-Mini mode. Would I like to spin off parts of Microsoft. Oh yes. Less money wasted and less people? It's a Win-Win two-fer. How about our health solutions group to start with? Other Fools: Online Services Division: Microsoft Time for a Break-Up?

I think it would be healthy to actually encourage spin offs. Give new groups funding for two years and then assess whether this will continue to be a Microsoft endeavor or not. If not, the group can spin off as their own new company, with Microsoft as a stake-holder, and go their own way. So if Midori is not in our future then tip the hat to them and let them take off on their own.

Back to Mr. Ballmer. If you want to end on a high-note, now's the time. Mr. Ballmer can declare victory in the continued success of Windows 7, the innovation of Bing that's rattled Google, the alignment of products around the cloud, Kinect, and Windows Phone 7. It's going to be a while until the stars set themselves up like this again. Better to go out with victory than be chased out of Salmonberg by a bunch of fed-up institutional investors wanting real dividends and stock performance. You know: shareholder value.

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