Pros Say Microsoft Investors May Want to Reconsider

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The move by Microsoft to buy Nokia’s mobile phone business for almost $7.2 billion may cause some investors to jump ship—and for good reason, experts said Tuesday.

“I guess we are going to really have to do some soul-searching here to see if we really want to own a phone company,” said Kim Forrest, vice president and portfolio manager of Fort Pitt Capital Group, which owns about 650,000 shares of Microsoft. “We’ve take a pretty dim view of the makers of phones over the years. We have not really owned anybody in this space.”

The tech giant announced that it was restructuring in July, emphasizing “one Microsoft” that would push more into devices.

(Read More: Ballmer to Step Down: What’s Next for Microsoft?)

“This really does show that they want to become a devices company and anyone that holds this stock thinking it was a software company has to really think long and hard about where this company’s going,” Forrest said.

Microsoft is primarily viewed as an enterprise software company, despite its efforts to move into devices, she said. If the company wants investors to get behind that idea, it needs to pitch the move to shareholders as something that will ultimately serve the enterprise business, she said.

Even then, there’s not much to get excited about, said Brendan Barnicle, a senior research analyst at Pacific Crest Securities.

“This is a danger still for Microsoft, and I’m very skeptical if it’s going to work out,” Barnicle said. “I think what you are really seeing is Microsoft buying a new OEM partner to keep its Windows business afloat.”

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The company has a solid history of developing software, a high-margin business. But it appears as if Microsoft sees getting into devices and services—both much lower margin—as the only way to stay in software. That changes investors’ view of the company, Barnicle said.

“If that’s the profile of what this company is going to look like, I think it’s going to be very hard to get a lot of investors very excited,” he said.

Blame the board

Another problem is the timing of the deal. Microsoft recently announced that CEO Steve Ballmer will be leaving within a year. A replacement has not been named.
(Read more: Microsoft CEO Ballmer to step down within 12 months)

“That’s the superinteresting thing about the timing of this,” Forrest said. “This certainly feels like it would have been something you would have left to the next person that’s going to run Microsoft, and yet here we go making a major acquisition.”

The stock got a big boost when news of Ballmer’s departure broke over a week ago, but its share price was down more than 5 percent during afternoon trading Tuesday after reports of the Nokia agreement.

It indicates that even with Ballmer out, bad decisions will be made because the board is still in place, according to the experts.

“Fundamentally, this is the board’s call and it has been for a while,” Barnicle said. “It was the board’s call to keep Steve there for this long, and it has been the board’s call to go ahead and make this kind of deal,” Barnicle said. “The board has a very different view of where IT is going then I think a lot of tech investors do.”

Microsoft’s Manchurian Candidate not fit for CEO

While Microsoft has not named any CEO candidates, there has been plenty of speculation about who will be up next. With the Nokia announcement, a big contingent has the most likely candidate as Stephen Elop, a former Microsoft exec and current Nokia CEO—and what some are calling Microsoft’s very own Manchurian Candidate.

It’s posited that Elop left his job as head of Microsoft’s business division in 2010 to head up Nokia and prep the company for an eventual takeover. The theory then was that he would use that position to contract sweetheart deals for Microsoft.

While his reasons for joining Nokia remain hypothetical, there is reason to believe that his return to Microsoft will result in his replacing Ballmer, according to analysts and industry professionals.

(Watch: When CEOs Leave)

Elop will be stepping down at Nokia when the transaction is considered for approval to avoid a conflict of interest, the company said. But the Microsoft board has said that it wants someone who understands its business, as well as devices, and Elop fits those qualifications.

“I think you have to assume he is in the lead if you think about what the board has talked about,” Barnicle said. But just because Elop meets those requirements doesn’t mean he is the best leader for the company, he added.

“I don’t think he brings the real strategic change and innovation that you really need at Microsoft,” Barnicle said. “And the hopes that folks had that there might be some big restructuring that might unlock a bunch of shareholder value—you’ve got to assume that’s off the table with this move.”

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