Sunday, February 10, 2008

Microsoft deal doesn't feel right except for Yahoo stock owners

"There's something wrong with us!" Bill Murray's character John Winger told his fellow soldiers in the film "Stripes." "Something very, very wrong with us!"Sometimes we have a premonition of things about to go very, very wrong.With Britney Spears, the eerie feeling surfaced with her impulsive marriage to a childhood friend in a Las Vegas chapel in 2004, a union that lasted all of 55 hours.
Hmmm, doesn't seem quite right, we thought. But she'll get it together.At Enron Corp., investor stomachs turned queasy when then-Chief Executive Jeffrey Skilling made a surprise resignation from the nation's seventh-largest company in 2001.Strange that he'd do that now, said shareholders and energy industry experts. If Enron is in no financial peril, like he said, why leave?Or consider my local Starbucks Corp. store, which recently began to offer hot breakfast sandwiches, (available in selected stores around the country) with a full morning staff on hand to extol the virtues of the sandwich and offer free samples.Several days later, Howard Schultz, who has returned as CEO, stated publicly that shareholders must expect near-term financial strain from steps he's taking to resuscitate the company. Those steps include removing hot breakfast sandwiches from the menu.Farewell, breakfast sandwiches, we hardly knew ye. Hmmm, customers wondered, what's up with Starbucks?Something seemed very, very wrong when I conducted interviews with executives of Daimler-Benz and Chrysler Corp. as they announced their ill-fated 1998 merger. There was an ominous feel to the oddly effusive America Online Inc. and Time Warner Inc. merger announcement in 2000 as well.Those deals just didn't seem right, but, then again, we thought maybe they knew something we didn't.More recently, Microsoft Corp.'s unsolicited bid for Yahoo Inc. has an unsettling smell of desperation. The software powerhouse is understandably obsessed with cutting into Google Inc.'s increasing lead in online advertising and Web search engines.But merging a stumbling Yahoo, despite its reach of 500 million users, with the slowing Microsoft, whose own Web initiates haven't excelled as it hoped, does not create a Google.Historically, merging two companies that aren't No. 1 in a field doesn't result in a combined company that overtakes the leader. That's especially true in technology, where innovation rather than bulk spurs growth. Often, the existing problems of the combined firms multiply once they're put under one roof.But, then again, maybe Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer knows something we don't know. I will say this: For long-suffering Yahoo shareholders, this is a deal that's very, very right for them. Seriously right. Their Christmas may have arrived a month late, but it is welcome nonetheless.

No comments: